The U.S. Department of the Interior has rejected a petition filed by a national
wildlife group challenging a program in which Alaska hunters shoot wolves from
Defenders of Wildlife said Thursday it received a letter from Interior Secretary
Gale Norton's office that says the aerial wolf control program operating in the
McGrath area is allowed under exceptions contained in the Airborne Hunting Act
The wildlife group is considering further legal action.
"The Airborne Hunting Act doesn't let you mow down predators from the air just
to radically reshape the entire wildlife profile of a whole area," said Rodger
Schlickeisen, president of the 465,000-member group.
The federal law says that states cannot issue permits for airborne hunting for
the purpose of sport hunting. But it says exceptions are allowed for the protection
of "land, water, wildlife, livestock, domestic animals, human life or crops."
Defenders of Wildlife contends that the intent of Alaska's aerial wolf control
program is not to protect wildlife but to boost game populations for hunters.
"Because the programs are for the purpose of enhancing hunting and other recreational
opportunities, unrelated to protecting wildlife, they violate the Airborne Hunting
Act," the Washington, D.C.-based group said in the petition filed in February.
The state has a different view. It contends that aerial wolf control is a predator
control program designed to protect moose calves in the winter when they are
most vulnerable to being eaten by bears and wolves.
program is under way in two areas of Alaska where residents
have long complained wolves and bears kill too many moose
calves, leaving them with too few to hunt and eat. The
Game Board wants 40 wolves removed from the area near
McGrath in the Interior and 140 wolves from the Nelchina
basin near Glennallen in Southcentral.
As of Thursday, 20 wolves had been killed near McGrath and 120 near Glennallen.
Department of Fish and Game officials said, with the programs ending April
30, it looked like neither one would reach its goal. Both programs are expected
to start up again next winter.
When Defenders of Wildlife filed the petition, state Attorney General Gregg
Renkes said the Game Board specifically designed the program to be a predator
control program, not a hunting program.
Defenders of Wildlife lawyer Susan George said the group will consider going
the next step and filing a lawsuit.
"We think the Department of the Interior has a responsibility to enforce the
act," she said. "When you are talking about boosting game populations, that's
not wildlife protection."
Another group, Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals, with 200,000 members,
has tried unsuccessfully to challenge the aerial wolf control program in state
court. A Superior Court judge in Anchorage ruled that the Game Board acted
legally in approving the program.
of Animals late last month filed an amended complaint
that says the Game Board lacked "sound biological data" needed to approve the program, and therefore
it is illegal.