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ADF&G Reaction to Unimak Decision

Anchorage - A federal judge today (June 7, 2010) denied the recent request by the State of Alaska to allow for the shooting of wolves on caribou calving grounds on Unimak Island to protect the herd.  Although Judge Holland commented that some action is badly needed, and that arguments made today by the state appeal to common sense and the need to act and get moving,  he ultimately ruled in favor of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

“Of course this is a disappointment” said Commissioner Denby Lloyd.  “It’s truly unfortunate that Judge Holland felt his hands were tied today.  But, apparently the rules for engagement contemplate having the federal agency stand by, while the caribou herd continues its decline, and prevent us from fulfilling our mandate to assure conservation and sustained yield.  The irony is that Unimak’s wolf population is at risk as well.  The federal government’s own mandate to conserve fish and wildlife remains unsatisfied.” 

The Department is about to begin its calf collaring program and could protect Unimak caribou calves immediately.  Experts from the department previously stated that calf protection efforts would need to be in place by June 7th to make a difference this year. 

The Unimak Caribou herd has declined from more than 1,200 animals in 2002 with 54 bulls per 100 cows, to approximately 400 this past year, with 5 bulls per 100 cows, the lowest bull:cow ratio on record of any caribou herd in Alaska. At that level, most cows in the herd are unable to successfully breed and don’t produce calves.  Information collected in the field this week indicates the herd numbers only 175-250, of which perhaps only seven were bulls.

Local rural residents have contacted the Department to request immediate action to reduce predation on Unimak caribou and increase the herd for subsistence opportunities.

Although the Alaska Board of Game recently extended the wolf trapping and hunting seasons on Unimak Island, the Department contends that a concerted effort by hunters and trappers to take wolves could result in more wolves being killed than would be selectively taken by Department staff, and be less effective at stopping or reversing the caribou herd’s decline.

Attorney General Dan Sullivan said: “The judge said he found the State’s arguments to be ‘very attractive,’ and that they made a great deal of common sense. He was convinced that the caribou herd was in a bad situation and could not understand why the United States Fish and Wildlife Service did not act quickly to try to remedy the situation. However, he concluded that there were no legal grounds under which, at this time, he could interfere with that agency’s decision to take its time and follow a longer process.”

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