Associated Press / January 29, 2006
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The court battle over Alaska's aerial wolf-killing program continued Friday with an animal rights group requesting that planes with pilots and gunner teams stay grounded.
Friends of Animals, the group that has been waging a more than two-year court fight against the predator control program, filed a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction late Friday afternoon - one day after the state approved emergency regulations to resuscitate the program.
The state has said permits were being reissued and the program could be up and running by as early as this weekend.
Jim Reeves, lawyer for Friends of Animals and seven Alaska plaintiffs, said the request to halt the program was made to Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason in response to what he described as a "complete rewrite of the predator control program" by the board.
"We contend there is no emergency "¦ that would justify adopting 77 pages of brand new regulations establishing new wolf predator plans in five areas of the state, doubling or even tripling some areas with no public participation,"
Reeves said he would call the judge on Monday to request a hearing as soon as possible.
Matt Robus, the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said the revision was lengthy to satisfy the judge's request for more detail in the plan. He said the board did not make any substantive changes to the program and actually reduced two of the areas. "The specific objectives of the plan are the same," he said.
The board met in emergency session so as not to disrupt the program, he said.
"The ruling came down at the time of year when the permitees are going to be most effective," Robus said.
The wolf-killing program was begun in 2003 in the McGrath area, an Interior town of about 470 residents that is off the road system and about 300 air miles from the nearest supermarket. Residents there had long-complained that wolves and bears were eating too many moose calves, leaving them with too few to hunt.
Since then, the program has been expanded and now operates in five areas of Alaska. More than 400 wolves have been killed under the program so far and the state has set a goal of another 400 for this winter. The best time to track and kill wolves is in the next few months.
Last week, the state pulled permits to more than 150 pilot and gunner teams following Gleason's finding that the program was illegal. Among the judge's concerns were the game board's failure to provide required justification for the program and inadequate explanation for why less lethal means to reduce wolf numbers would not work. She also questioned how the board set differing levels for reducing wolf numbers.
The state began the process of reissuing permits after the game board, faced with the judge's ruling, revised the regulations on Wednesday.
Friends of Animals has been successful before in getting a temporary restraining order from Gleason. In November 2003, Gleason granted the request, which shut down the program for about 10 days, only later to refuse to put a longer stop to it.
In the latest court skirmish, Gleason found after reviewing 2,000 pages supplied by the state that the program was illegal.
"I think it is scandalous," said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, when asked about the board's actions to reactivate the program. "The permits were recalled. They can't be reissued... The wolf control program was declared illegal."