An Alaska judge Friday rejected an attempt by an animal rights group to stop
a state-sponsored program allowing hunters to shoot wolves from airplanes in
That opens the door to a threatened nationwide tourism boycott targeting Alaska's
$2 billion tourism business, the same tactic that halted a similar wolf eradication
effort a decade ago.
The Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, and seven Alaska plaintiffs, asked
Superior Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason to grant a preliminary injunction to stop
the lethal wolf control program intended to boost the moose population in McGrath,
a village of 470 people in Interior Alaska.
Gleason refused to grant the injunction and lifted a temporary restraining order
that had kept three pilot-and-hunter teams grounded since Nov. 26.
Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral said she would spend the weekend
considering the possibility of further legal action.
"We're hoping what the state won't do is rush out and annihilate the wolves," she
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week, Feral pledged to
organize a tourism boycott if the state insists on killing wolves.
Friends of Animals, which touts 200,000 members, was behind a successful tourism
boycott about a decade ago that resulted in then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel imposing
a moratorium on wolf control in 1992. During that boycott, Friends of Animals
launched 53 demonstrations called "howl-ins" in 51 cities around the country.
McGrath is off the road system and about 300 air miles from large grocery and
department stores in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Residents have complained for a
decade that there are too few moose for food because they are being eaten by
wolves and bears.
The state wants to kill the wolves in approximately a 1,700-square-mile area
near McGrath to establish a moose nursery of sorts. The program began this spring
with the relocation of 75 black bears and eight grizzlies. State wildlife biologist
say moving the bears increased the summer survival rate of moose calves by about
The state spent about $100,000 on the bear relocation effort.
Now, the state wants to remove between 35 and 45 wolves to save about 25 moose
calves that otherwise likely would be eaten by wolves this winter. The state
has about $1,300 invested so far in each moose calf that would be saved under
the program, said state lawyer Kevin Saxby.
Saxby said Friday there were no legal challenges standing in the way of the pilots
and hunters taking to the air immediately.
"There is no pending order that would keep them grounded," he said.
Gleason said that the Alaska Board of Game had the authority to approve the program
this fall even if the moose population was fine. The game board could base its
decision solely on whether harvest objectives for the McGrath area were being
met, she said.
That's because the language in the bill was changed to delete the more specific
phrase "prey population objectives" and replace it with "objectives," as in harvest
objectives, Gleason said.
Matt Robus, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, testified
Tuesday that the moose population around McGrath had increased but the number
of harvested moose remained well below expectations. The fall harvest objective
for the McGrath area was between 130 and 150 moose, but only about 70 were taken,
Plaintiffs' lawyer James Reeves argued that the law does not refer to harvest
objectives but is talking instead about population objectives. He said the state
is underestimating the harvest by not fully taking into account the number of
illegal moose taken.
Lethal wolf control has been an emotionally charged issue in Alaska for decades.
Before statehood in 1959, shooting wolves from airplanes was common practice.
But aerial sport hunting was banned in 1972. The law, however, did allow for
aerial shooting for predator control. Alaska voters in 1996 and 2000 banned a
similar practice known as land-and-shoot hunting.