A state judge today told the state to stop paying pilots and aerial gunners $150 to kill wolves.
State Superior Court Judge Bill Morse said the cash payments are bounties, and the Department of Fish and Game doesn't have legal authority to offer it, according to an account of the court hearing from Mike Grisham, an Anchorage attorney representing Friends of Animals.
The state is now considering options still available to boost wolf kill numbers, including state biologists shooting them from chartered helicopters, said Matt Robus, state director of wildlife conservation.
"We understand his judgment ... and we'll explore our options."
Friends of Animals and other conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, filed suit Tuesday asking the judge to immediately stop the bounty.
Fish and Game managers announced March 21 they would offer the cash in an effort to boost wolf kills in the five areas where the state's aerial predator control program is in place in portions of the Interior and Southcentral. The four-year program, designed to save caribou and moose from wolves, is behind schedule this year, especially in the Interior.
State biologists this month said they wanted 382 to 664 wolves killed in those areas by the time the predator-control season ends April 30.
As of Wednesday, aerial gunners, hunter and trappers had killed 151 wolves, the state reported.
Fish and Game officials claimed the cash was not a bounty but an incentive that would provide the state with biological information. They said they had authority under a state law allowing the department to pay for biological specimens.
Only pilots and gunners permitted to kill wolves under the predator-control program -- there were 193 as of Wednesday -- were eligible for the bounty if they turned in the left front legs of wolves, which can provide information about health and age.
Alex deMarban can be reached at email@example.com.