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Federal judge rejects predator-control lawsuit against Interior Department

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: June 13, 2018
  • Published June 8, 2018

A federal judge in Anchorage has dismissed a lawsuit against a policy that allows predator control on Alaska's refuges including gassing wolf pups in dens or shooting bears over bait stations.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Interior Department last year.

The group sought the reinstatement of a 2016 federal policy banning numerous state-sanctioned predator-control policies for bears, wolves and other wildlife on federal refuges in Alaska.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason dismissed the suit Friday, according to a one-page judgement filed with a 27-page order.

Collette Adkins, one of the attorneys on the case, expressed disappointment in the decision and said the Center for Biological Diversity is considering an appeal.

The state of Alaska, Pacific Legal Foundation and the Safari Club intervened in the suit last year.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law wasn't immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

The suit hinged on the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used federal law that allows Congress to revoke a federal regulation within 60 legislative days of its passage with a simple majority vote.

In 2016, under the Obama administration, the Interior Department adopted a rule that prohibited several practices permitted under state law. That included the use of snares, nets and traps; hunting wolves or coyotes during their denning season; baiting bears; and using aircraft to hunt bears.

The agency manages 16 refuges in Alaska totaling nearly 77 million acres.

Federal officials said the rule sprang from concerns about increasingly aggressive state predator control policies as well as liberalized hunts near refuge lands.

But members of Congress in a joint resolution hailed by state officials "disapproved" the rule under the Congressional Review Act. President Donald Trump signed the action.

The move to overturn the refuge policy, hailed by hunting groups, drew a groundswell of public opposition.

"We do think the Congressional Review Act is such an abuse and violates the Constitution," Adkins said Friday. "Here in particular where there's such public support for these animals, it just never could have been passed through normal legislation."

The new policy isn't apparently changing the way predators on refuges are managed in Alaska.

A former Fish and Wildlife Service director said last year that the change simply restores a previous policy where state predator-control proposals for refuges had to be approved by federal officials – and rarely if ever were.

The state relies on various methods to enact predator control. For wolves, those methods can include private pilots shooting them from planes and Department of Fish and Game staff shooting them from helicopters.

Fish and Game did gas wolf pups in dens but only in one program in 2008 and 2009, officials say.