Wolf Song of Alaska News

Injunction to Stop Alaska Aerial Wolf Hunt Sought

Airborne:  Game Board revisions challenged; action would also stop bear kills

Alex deMarban / Anchorage Daily News / November 21, 2006

Three conservation groups are asking for a court order to halt the state-sanctioned aerial-aided killing of wolves and bears.

Defenders of Wildlife, The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and the Sierra Club want a Superior Court judge to stop the state from issuing shooting permits under the program, said Valerie Brown, an attorney for the groups.

Their request for a preliminary injunction, filed Friday, also asks the court to order permitted gunners to hold their fire.

More than 150 wolves were killed last year.

The program, created in 2003, aims to reduce predators in five areas of the state to boost struggling moose and caribou populations and increase hunter harvests. The program encompasses about 10 percent of Alaska.

Under the program, private individuals can apply for permits to shoot wolves with the help of aircraft. Permitted gunners in planes can chase wolves from the air, then land and shoot. In some areas, they can kill wolves while airborne. Critics say the practice is inhumane and unsporting.

In May, the board also implemented new rules to encourage bear killing in some areas. The conservation groups want those rules removed, too.

Sixty-eight pilots are registered to fly under the program, said Cathie Harms, a regional program manager with the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. Each pilot can carry more than one gunner.

The Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife and the Anchorage-based Wildlife Alliance filed a lawsuit with the court in August, arguing the program should be halted because it relies on faulty science and violates state law.

The Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco, has joined the lawsuit.

Friday's injunction request is a tactic in their lawsuit.

This lawsuit comes after a January decision by a state judge that the program allowing aerial-aided killings was invalid.

In May, the state Game Board revised the program.

In their lawsuit, the groups are challenging the revision.

At that meeting, the board provided incentives for hunters to kill black and brown bears in some areas, including allowing hunters in planes to bait and kill black bears immediately after landing.

The board also removed a restriction that it use the best-available science and that it follow a publicly reviewed and adopted "Wolf Management Plan," Brown said.

The board did not give public notice before it made those changes, Brown said. It should have.

It also failed to create a comprehensive game management plan, violating state law, she said.

The state must respond to the conservation groups' request by Monday, Brown said.

"Our legal staff is writing the state's response," Harms said, adding she expects the court to rule on the injunction request within two or three weeks, Harms said.
Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban@adn.com or 257-4310.

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