Judge Won't Halt Alaskan Wolf Aerial Hunting

A judge on Tuesday denied a request by an animal rights group to immediately halt a population control program that allows shooting wolves from the air.

Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason said the Board of Game acted properly in adopting emergency regulations last week that make the program conform to state law. That allowed the program to be reinstated more than a week after Gleason ruled it was illegal.

The program, intended to boost moose and caribou populations in five areas of the state, got its start in 2003 in an area of Alaska's Interior where residents had long complained predators were killing too many moose, leaving too few for food.

Gleason ruled Jan. 17 that the board violated its own standards for expanding the program, in part because it did not provide justification for it or explain why alternatives such as sterilization or habitat destruction would not work.

The board then scrapped its existing regulations and created new ones that list alternatives it considers unfeasible. It will seek to make the new rules permanent at a regular public meeting in March.

Friends of Animals, a Darien, Conn.-based animal rights group, had sued to end the program and asked for a temporary restraining order blocking wolf control. It argued the board should have used standard procedures — including taking public testimony — in adopting new regulations.

The judge ruled that the new regulations do not expand the program and that there is a long record of public testimony on it.

Gleason also noted the state's argument that the program would be harmed by going through the normal adoption of regulations. The process would have taken at least 75 days, prosecutors said, which likely would have kept shooting teams out of the skies at least through April.

About 400 wolves have been killed so far under the program, and the state intends to kill another 400 wolves this year.

Alaska is home to the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the country. State biologists estimate about 7,000 to 11,000 wolves roam the state.