Among other actions aimed to prevent the state from killing wolves, federal officials threatened to charge state employees engaging in predator control with trespassing.
Almost all of Unimak Island is a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and state officials say the caribou herd, which numbered more than 1,200 in 2002 is down to just about 400 animals. The state says the bull-to-cow ratio has fallen to just 5-to-100, leaving only about 20 bulls on the island.
The state says it first contacted a federal refuge manager in December about the matter, hoping to act before the 2010 calving season. Biologists say that many of the calves are killed by wolves before they reach one month old.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it hopes to conduct an environmental impact review before taking action.
"I would say that our biologists don't necessarily agree with the level of urgency that the state is claiming," Bruce Woods, a spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an interview earlier this week.
"We feel that because that departs from any recent historical action that it is a significant action and it does require an environmental assessment," Woods said.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service erected obstacle after obstacle over a period of five months to prevent us from carrying out the state constitutional mandate to manage our resources for the maximum benefit of our people," said Governor Sean Parnell in a press release. "It's part of a pattern in which federal agencies are usurping state prerogatives, potentially constricting our future, and they're doing it while violating their own rules and regulations, as well as their prior agreements with us."
The state is asking for an injunction that would allow the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to remove seven wolves, a number it says biologists have determined necessary to maintain the herd's numbers, while the lawsuit proceeds.
The state says acting during this calving season could be the last chance to avoid the ultimate loss of the entire herd, which it says is the primary source of subsistence red meat within a 400-mile radius.