Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / February 3, 2005
An Anchorage judge on Wednesday upheld the state's controversial aerial wolf-kill programs, paving the way for private pilots to shoot more than 600 wolves this winter in rural Alaska.
In her decision, Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason refused to grant an injunction sought by the Connecticut-based group Friends of Animals and six Alaska residents to halt predator-control efforts until their lawsuit against the state goes to trial in May.
The same group of plaintiffs sued the state in 2003, saying the Alaska Board of Game and Alaska Department of Fish and Game hadn't justified the predator-program under guidelines in state law. Gleason denied that request.
The plaintiffs pitched a similar argument last week, saying the Game Board had not determined the necessary harvest and population figures required by state law before predator control can begin.
Gleason found that the plaintiffs had not proven that the figures were invalid and that they would suffer only minor harm if this winter's programs go forward. On the other hand, she wrote, the state demonstrated it would suffer economic harm by stopping the multiyear programs mid-stream and that subsistence users would also be harmed by interrupting the efforts.
She also noted the plaintiffs were challenging figures established as early as 2001, and that the long delay before taking the state to court undercut their request for immediate action.
Representing Friends of Animals, attorney Jim Reeves said he was heartbroken by the ruling.
But Game Board chairman Mike Fleagle said it showed, for the second time in 13 months, "that the state is acting appropriately and within the law."
The ruling isn't likely to affect Game Board decisions on future predator control programs, Fleagle said.
"We view each new proposal on their merits," he said. "I don't know if (the ruling) makes us more cautious, but it will keep us on our toes when we approve these things that we dot all our i's and cross all our t's."
At its next meeting, March 4-13 in Anchorage, the board will consider requests for new wolf-control efforts in several additional areas, including the Kenai Peninsula.
So far this winter, pilots have killed 115 wolves in five programs stretching from the Kuskokwim River to the Canada border near Tok.
Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4310
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