A Superior Court judge on Wednesday issued a court order to temporarily prevent
the shooting of wolves from airplanes under a state predator control program.
"At the order of the court, we're suspending operations for now," said Matt Robus,
director the state Department of Fish and Game's division of wildlife conservation.
The Darien, Conn.-based group Friends of Animals, along with seven Alaska plaintiffs,
sought the temporary restraining order after the state issued three permits to
allow pilot-and-hunter teams to shoot wolves in the McGrath area of Alaska's
Superior Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason issued the order late Wednesday after
hearing arguments in the morning. She is also scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday
on whether to issue a preliminary injunction sought by Friends of Animals to
stop the program.
If that effort fails, the group will call for a tourism boycott of Alaska as
they did a decade ago when 53 demonstrations called "howl-ins" were held at 51
cities nationwide, said Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral.
"Basically, it is putting the economic screws to the Murkowski administration," Feral
said of the threatened tourism boycott.
The first tourism boycott and strong national opposition resulted in former Gov.
Walter J. Hickel imposing a moratorium on wolf control in 1992. Former Gov. Tony
Knowles then suspended state-sanctioned wolf killing shortly after gaining office
in 1994. Current Gov. Frank Murkowski, who took office in December, favors lethal
The predator control program for the McGrath area is intended to reduce the number
of wolves near the town and increase the number of moose calves so that there
will be more moose for McGrath area residents to eat.
McGrath, which has about 470 residents, has a couple of local stores but is off
the road system. Residents who want to shop at large grocery stores or department
stores must fly to either Anchorage or Fairbanks, both about 300 air miles away,
said Ken Parker, the village public safety officer.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that McGrath area residents
need between 130 and 150 moose, but harvests have been averaging between 60 and
90 moose for the past decade. The program calls for killing about 40 wolves this
State lawyer Kevin Saxby argued Wednesday that even a temporary restraining order
could mean scrapping the program. The program began in the spring with the relocation
of brown and black bears from the McGrath area. Plans called for killing wolves
in October and November to protect moose calves vulnerable to predation by wolves
in the winter. More wolves would be removed in March, he said.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued three permits, one to a McGrath
resident who will be ready to fly as soon as he picks up his permit at the agency's
office in McGrath, Saxby said. Those who received permits were notified Tuesday.
"If at all possible this must proceed now," Saxby said. "If we lose those calves
we will have to start all over again ... Both fiscal and scientific harm will
happen to the state if we have to start all over again."
Whether the temporary suspension of the program will have a significant effect
on the populations depends in part on the weather, Robus said. Bad weather between
now and Tuesday would have grounded the pilots anyway.
"Wolf predation occurs throughout the winter," he said.
Saxby also pointed out that wolves are killed legally in McGrath now, both through
hunting and trapping. He said snowmachines are allowed as long as the hunters
don't shoot the wolves from the machines.
If plaintiffs are arguing that the wolf control program would do irreparable
harm to the wolves, what about those already being killed? he asked.
"They haven't demonstrated irreparable harm," Saxby said.
Plaintiffs lawyer James Reeves said Alaska Natives feel the same way about wolves
as the Great Plains Indians felt about bison. He encouraged the judge to issue
the restraining order so that the court could look seriously at questions raised
by the case.
"What's the harm if we wait a few days?" he asked.
Plaintiff Paul Joslin, wildlife director for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said
there's no need to shoot wolves near McGrath. Studies conducted in 1996 and 2001
show the moose population is stable or increasing, he said.
"It is a disgrace," Joslin said. "Think of it as an air posse to take pot shots
at wolves with buckshots ... It's appalling."