A federal judge here yesterday blocked, at least temporarily, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from killing 170 wolves that the agency says it believes are preying on moose that some Alaskans need for subsistence living.
U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green signed a temporary restraining order, effective until March 23, against the kill, and scheduled a hearing that day on a preliminary injunction sought by environmental groups opposed to the killing.
Last Friday the state agency authorized the killing in a 35,000-square-mile area between Mount McKinley National Park and the Yukon River, an area where about 300 wolves and 4,750 moose live.
By the time Green issued her ruling yesterday afternoon, 11 wolves had been killed by state licensed hunters armed with shotguns and flying as low as 30 feet above the ground in fixed-wing aircraft, according to the agency.
"The idea here is to lower the population of wolves to reduce predation pressure on moose," said Bob Hinman. an Alaskan game official.
But lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council, seven other environmental groups and two Alaskan environmentalists told Green that the Inerior Department, which manages two-thirds of the area where the kill was authorized, should be required to prepare an environmental impact statement on the effect of the killing.
"Wolves and moose have coexisted in Alaska for millenia and, barring major environmental change or outside intervention, will continue to do so," the environmentalists' suit claimed. "Even the state concedes that wolf predation does not threaten the survival of moose in the designated hunt area. Rather, the state has chosen to artificially reduce the losses of moose to wolves in order to increase moose populations.
"The rationale for this policy is political, not ecological: to provide more moose for people to hunt."
"To simply allow the state to go out and blast away is unwarranted and irresponsible," said Karin Sheldon, a lawyer for the environmentalists.
"It's a premature management technique," said Gregory Thomas, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sheldon and Thomas said that wolves do kill moose, but that the natural process helps ensure proper-sized herds of both.
Justice Department attorney Charlotte Bell told Green that no environmental impact statement is required for the wolf kill. The judge denied Bell's motion to move the case to Alaska, where sentiment runs high for killing the wolves, especially among rural residents.