May 30, 2010

Alaska Sues US Fish and Wildlife Service

The state of Alaska is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of a controversial predator control program. At issue is the state's plan to kill wolves to preserve a caribou herd inside the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on Unimak Island. 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it would start shooting wolves on Unimak to protect caribou calving grounds as part of its predator control program.

Although the program is in place in at least six locations throughout Alaska, this would be the first time in recent history that aerial predator control would be used inside a national refuge in Alaska.

The department planned on using two biologists and four pilots to kill wolves.

On Monday, federal officials cautioned that killing the wolves without a special use permit would be considered "a trespass on the refuge" and immediately referred to the U.S. attorney.

Alaska interprets that maneuver as the feds blocking the program. The lawsuit seeks a court order that allows the state to kill seven wolves while the litigation continues.

Alaska announced the lawsuit after federal business hours on Friday. Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the federal agency in the state, said he could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.

Caribou play an important role in the food chain for about 62 people living on the island.  However, the animal's population has been declining for years.

The state says that killing wolves is an important part of protecting this year's caribou calves.

However, federal officials say it is required by law to follow a certain process.  Woods told The Associated Press earlier this week that Alaska is well aware of this process, but does not want to wait for it to play out through the bureaucracy.

"We definitely are saying that any significant action conducted on a wildlife refuge in Alaska requires a special use permit by the service," he told AP.

The government also said it has been working with the state in order to be more clear about the biological factors in the herd's decline since concerns were raised in December. The federal agency issued permits to allow additional radio collaring and biological sampling of wolves and caribou.

"The actions of Fish and Wildlife have set the stage for the worst possible outcome - the potential disappearance of this caribou herd and a total loss of subsistence opportunity in the area for the foreseeable future," Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said in a prepared statement.

"We pushed as hard as we could, recognizing that time was running out fast, but I wasn't going to put my employees into a situation in which the federal government prosecutes them for carrying out their state responsibilities," he said.

The lawsuit says that the Fish and Wildlife Service is in violation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act and a memorandum of understanding with the state.


On the Net:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department

Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife