Judge says federal agency has ‘prerogative to decide’
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A federal judge on Monday denied the state of Alaska’s request for a preliminary injunction to kill wolves, a step it said was needed to protect a caribou herd on an island in the Aleutian chain that is a subsistence food source for rural Alaskans there.
U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland said that while sympathetic to the state’s argument, he had to abide by law when ruling against the state’s request to immediately conduct predator control in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on Unimak Island.
“Somebody’s governmental pride will be bruised here and there is no avoiding that,” Holland said, before ruling in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It is the federal agency’s prerogative to decide what they have decided.”
The state argued that without emergency intervention, the Unimak Island caribou herd – the only island caribou herd in the United States – will continue to decline and die out if nothing is done.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argued it is bound by certain environmental laws that must be considered, and that takes time. In the meantime, it said it has been working with the state on the problem of the declining herd.
The federal agency late Monday announced it would allow the state to relocate 20 bull caribou from another herd off the island to Unimak in hopes it would lead to better calf production in future years.
Holland rejected the state’s argument that the federal agency had unlawfully kept it from going forward with its plan to kill seven wolves. That issue is still being worked out, Holland said, and therefore is not subject to court review.
“At this time, there has been no federal agency action subject to review,” he said.
Caribou herd numbers on the island have dwindled from more than 1,200 in 2002 to about 400 now.