For Immediate Release
March 28, 2013
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance has filed a lawsuit alleging the Board of Game violated the Alaska Open Meetings Act when it denied petitions asking for a Denali wolf buffer zone
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance has filed a complaint in Anchorage Superior Court alleging that the Board of Game failed to comply with Alaska’s Open Meetings law when the Board rejected two separate petitions requesting that it re-establish a no-trapping wolf buffer zone adjacent to Denali National Park.
The suit asks that the court void the Board’s decisions on the petitions.
The suit alleges that in regard to each petition the Board “failed to hold an open, announced public meeting on the subject” which includes lack of public notice and the lack of any public meeting convened either by teleconference or in person which the public could attend.
AWA filed emergency petitions with the Board in September and October, 2012, asking the Board to re-establish a “wolf buffer zone” on state land adjacent to the eastern boundary of Denali National Park where hunting and trapping of wolves would not be allowed. The Board’s decisions on the petitions were communicated to AWA via letter from Kristy Tibbles, Executive Director of the Board of Game. She wrote that the Board’s decisions on both petitions were “…not by a meeting, but by an email poll consistent with long-standing practice on petitions for an emergency regulation when no Board meeting is otherwise scheduled within 30 days of receiving a petition.”
In addition to asking the court to void the decisions, the suit also asks the court to enjoin the Board from taking any actions based on those rejections, for an award of costs and attorney’s fees, and for such other relief as the court believes is warranted.
AWA, with enthusiastic support from other groups, sought the buffer zone to mitigate the Park’s declining wolf population, which is a major draw for Park visitors, and is vital to the local tourism industry. Wolf populations (and therefore viewing opportunities) have declined significantly in the Park due in part to trapping on non-Park lands along the boundaries. The most recent official National Park Service survey (Spring 2012) found a total of only 70 wolves in nine packs in the six million acre park – one of the lowest populations in decades.
In winter Denali wolves frequently wander across the north and eastern Park boundaries in search of prey or mates. Last spring a local trapper baited, trapped and killed the alpha female of the Grant Creek Pack, one of the Park’s most frequently and easily viewed wolf packs, just across the Park boundary. As a result the pack did not produce pups this year, and the remaining wolves dispersed. For years the Grant Creek pack had offered hundreds of thousands of Park visitors the best, most frequent opportunities to view wild wolves.
As the November 1 start date of the wolf trapping season grew near, on September 6 AWA filed its first emergency petition to make the area off-limits to trapping to prevent the loss of more wolves. The Board of Game denied that petition via an email poll of Board members, and AWA filed a request for reconsideration on October 3. The Board denied the reconsideration request, stating that it had no procedure to consider any request that it reconsider its decisions. AWA then filed a second, revised petition on October 10, which included additional information and analysis in support of the buffer zone. That revised petition also was denied via an email poll of Board members.
A wolf buffer zone existed in the same area beginning in 2002 before it was repealed by the Board of Game in 2010.
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and its Director John Toppenberg are named as plaintiffs in the case. The defendants are Ted Spraker, Chairman of the Alaska Board of Game and the Board of Game itself. The suit was filed on March 15 by Anchorage attorney Thomas Meacham representing AWA.