State officials say numbers are down sharply for the nation's only island caribou herd.
"Actually the situation is worse than we knew," McAllister said. "Fish and Game did a 20-hour aerial survey yesterday -- they counted 178 animals, they think that there are no more than 250."
Fish and Game blames wolves for the Unimak herd's decline, and set it sights on using an aerial predator control program to kill seven wolves. Federal officials, however, wanted to conduct a months-long National Environmental Policy Act assessment before taking action. They threatened legal action if the state tried to do so, because the calving grounds lie on a national wildlife refuge.
The state sued, but lost Monday.
"It is therefore the court's conclusion that a preliminary injunction cannot be granted in this case," Holland said.
"We certainly believe there is urgency to take some action," said the Fish and Wildlife Service's Larry Bell. "We're not as convinced as the state that that's an emergency, that that needs to happen immediately, so we will move forward with the NEPA documents that we are currently working on."
But both the state and the judge are questioning the lengthy federal timetable for taking action under NEPA.
"It's my view that some of the arguments that are made by the state are very attractive -- they appeal to one's common sense," Holland said. "They appeal to one's desire to act and get things moving in an area where it would appear to the court, as a non-professional in game management, that some action is badly needed."
An environmental impact statement will not be completed until December at the earliest, and an appeal of the court's decision will take at least two weeks.
The Department of Law says it's still considering its legal options. But for state biologists on Unimak Island, the battle is over. They say Monday's decision is a death sentence for this year's calves.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says its most recent study showed 400 caribou on Unimak Island.
Federal officials hope to approve a permit by Wednesday for a state request under NEPA, seeking to relocate several caribou bulls to the island in the fall.
Contact Jackie Bartz at email@example.com