FAIRBANKS - National animal rights group Defenders of Wildlife went to court Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop the Department of Fish and Game from shooting wolves from a helicopter in the eastern Interior.
The state began shooting wolves from a helicopter in the Fortymile region east of Tok last weekend to supplement efforts by private pilot-gunner teams participating in a state predator control program in the area to increase the number of moose and caribou for hunters. As of Wednesday afternoon, 59 wolves had been shot and killed using a helicopter, according to Fish and Game.
The region is one of five in the state in which the department is conducting predator control programs, but it is the only one in which a helicopter or state personnel are being used.
Wade Willis, the Alaska representative for Defenders, filed the request for an injunction in Anchorage District Court on Wednesday. The organization contends new regulations approved by the state Board of Game earlier this month allowing the use of helicopters and department personnel to kill wolves do not go into effect until July 1 because they were not passed during an emergency meeting.
"What they are doing in that region right now is illegal," Willis said.
Jennifer Yuhas, communications director for Fish and Game, would not comment on the legality of the new regulations and said the court will decide whether or not the department can continue using a helicopter to shoot wolves. Until then, the program will continue, she said.
"The Defenders of Wildlife chose the courts as their forum for this debate, so that's the proper place for it to play out," Yuhas said.
The department is aiming to kill as many as 150 of the estimated 400 wolves in the region using a helicopter, in addition to those killed by hunters, trappers and pilot-gunner teams participating in the state's predator control program.