Lawsuit Victory! Defending Public Participation on Board of Game Decisions

In January 2015, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance won a landmark lawsuit against the Alaska Board of Game (BOG), defending the public’s voice at BOG meetings and upholding the State’s Open Meetings Act.

In the Fall of 2012, Board of Game members voted twice (using serial emails) to deny the Alaska Wildlife Alliance’s two emergency petitions that sought to re-establish a no-hunting-or–trapping wolf buffer zone adjacent to Denali National Park. AWA’s lawsuit, filed in March 2013, alleged that those BOG votes were a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, because an official meeting was required by law and there had been no public meeting convened either by teleconference or in person which the public could attend, nor was there any public notice of such a meeting.

A decision issued Dec. 16, 2014 by Superior Court Judge John Suddock found in favor of AWA, declaring that the BOG violated the open meetings law when it did not deliberate and decide the petitions at a public meeting.

Judge Suddock’s decision did not specifically address the fate of AWA’s two 2012 petitions filed with the BOG asking for emergency regulations to protect the Denali wolves.

The BOG, represented by the state attorney general’s office, quickly filed a request for reconsideration of the Court’s decision. Even faster, a mere two days later, Judge Suddock issued a terse order denying the request, thereby reaffirming his earlier decision that the BOG’s email voting procedure violated the open meetings law.

“This decision is a clear message to the new administration and to all future administrations, as well as to the Board of Game.  The Board of Game was designed to work for and with Alaskans, not behind their backs.  Transparency is critical.  No one, including the Board of Game, is above the law.”

Tina Brown, former president of AWA

AWA, with enthusiastic support from its members and partners, has for years fought to re-establish the buffer zone eliminated by the Board in 2010. Our efforts were halted when the BOG approved a six-year moratorium against considering new proposals related to a buffer zone. Now, we continue this work with your support.

Denali’s iconic wolves are always at or near the top of visitors’ “must-see” wildlife lists. They are a major attraction that helps bring thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in tourism revenue to the state, and the local area. However, in the past few years, most visitors have been going home without so much as a glimpse of a Denali wolf. Wolf populations (and therefore viewing opportunities) have declined precipitously in the Park due in part to trapping on non-Park lands along the boundaries that wildlife obviously cannot recognize. The most recent official National Park Service survey (Fall 2014) found only 50 wolves in 13 packs in the six million acre park – one of the lowest counts on record.

As predicted by the 2012 emergency petitions, the Park’s wolf population and viewing opportunities have continued to decline. According to National Park Service surveys, in 2013 a mere 4 percent of visitors on bus tours inside the Park were able to see wolves. In 2010, the last year in which the wolves were protected by a buffer zone, 44 percent of visitors saw wolves.

This court victory, while it did not grant legal authority to the emergency petitions, does secure public participation at BOG meetings, and holds the BOG more accountable to the Alaskans they represent.