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Animal Rights Group Calls for Renewed Alaska Tourism Boycott


Mary Pemberton / AP / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 14, 2006

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) -- An animal-rights group is renewing its call for tourists to boycott Alaska after legal challenges failed to end a program aimed at killing hundreds of wolves this winter.

The move comes after the Alaska Supreme Court on Friday denied a request by Friends of Animals to halt the program. The judges also refused to review the case. The court did not provide an explanation.

"As far as a tourism boycott which I had called off, it will be organized again," Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien, Conn.-based group, said Monday. "As much as we are floored to get the news, we are determined to go ahead and keep working."

Over the past two years, Friends of Animals helped stage hundreds of demonstrations called howl-ins in cities across the country to protest Alaska's predator-control program, intended to allow moose and caribou to increase in numbers. Some activists dressed in wolf outfits at the gatherings, and some howled in imitation of wolves to protest the hunts.

Instead of reinstituting the howl-ins, the group is encouraging wolf advocates to send digital photographs showing them holding Alaska boycott signs that will be taken around the world, "every destination except Alaska," Feral said.

She is hoping everyone uses the same slogan on their signs: "I'd rather be here than Alaska." The pictures will be posted on the Friends of Animals' Web site.

Alaska tourism officials say the howl-ins have had little, if any, effect on the state's $2 billion-a-year tourism industry.

Friends of Animals, joined by seven Alaska plaintiffs, also has been leading the court fight against the predator control program since 2003. The group last month celebrated a short-lived victory when Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason found that the program to boost moose and caribou numbers was illegal because of administrative defects in the way the game board enacted it.

The game board went into emergency session to redraft the regulations and quickly reinstated the program, reissuing more than 100 permits to pilot and gunner teams, saying it was critical the program move forward while conditions are favorable for tracking and killing wolves. Gleason ruled the subsequent effort conformed with regulations and state law.

Gov. Frank Murkowski said the Supreme Court decision was a victory for Alaskans.

"Alaskans, who rely upon moose and caribou to feed their families, have scored yet another victory in court against outside interest groups," Murkowski said in a statement.

Jim Reeves, the lawyer for Friends of Animals, said the Supreme Court's refusal to review the case was procedural and not an endorsement of the program, and the group could file another appeal later. He said his group will examine its options after the game board's March meeting.

Friends of Animals began holding howl-ins in November 2003, soon after the program was initiated in the Interior town of McGrath. Since then, the wolf-control program has spread to four more areas of the state where moose and caribou numbers are low. About 400 wolves have been killed so far, about half the number planned for this winter.

The Friends of Animals campaign was successful in the 1990s in persuading then-Gov. Wally Hickel to cancel a similar program, Feral said. It has not had that success with Murkowski. Between November 2003 and April 2005, Friends of Animals held more than 230 howl-ins.

"When Murkowski sailed into office, everything went to hell," Feral said.

However, the latest Supreme Court decision has people re-energized, she said. Friends of Animals has already heard from sympathizers in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut willing to help restart the tourism boycott.

Friends of Animals also hopes to make lethal wolf control a gubernatorial campaign issue in the November election, Feral said. Murkowski, a first-term Republican, has not yet said whether he will run for re-election.

The group also plans to protest at the game board's next meeting in Fairbanks next month, where it will consider making the revised wolf control regulations permanent.

State biologists estimate that Alaska has 7,000 to 11,000 wolves.

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