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Judge Halts Killing Wolves to Save Alaskan Caribou

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By Jason Beahm on June 08, 2010 10:52 AM

In the battle between wolves and caribou, who is king? A federal judge weighed in on that question Thursday, temporarily refusing to allow the state of Alaska to kill seven wolves on a national wildlife refuge. The state has asked for permission to use helicopters to shoot the wolves in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, in order to protect the caribou. According to the state, the number of caribou are dwindling and the wolves are invading their calving grounds.

Interestingly, one of the reasons for the concern over the caribou is because they are a needed food source for a small group of people living on Unimak, an island in the Aleutian chain. In other words, one might say they want to save the caribou so that they can be eaten, though the people on Unimak do not wish to wipe out the entire herd.

Judge H. Russell Holland denied Alaska's temporary restraining order request against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Holland scheduled a hearing for Monday, when the court will consider issuing a preliminary injunction. Attorneys are expected to provide briefs to the court by the end of Friday. Alaska argues that time is of the essence, and informed the judge that it cannot wait longer than Monday to kill the wolves before they eat the baby caribou. If the wolves get to the caribou, Alaska believes the entire herd could die out.

The Fish and Wildlife Service does not share the timeline of the state and wants additional time to consider the plan. The judge instructed the parties that "...it will be best for everyone if we can get this matter out of the way."

As the Los Angeles Times reports, in 2002, there were more than 1,200 of caribou in the refuge. Biologists now estimate there are about 400 caribou on the island.

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