State sues over refuge closures

JUNEAU — The state of Alaska made good Wednesday on its threat to sue over the closure of federal refuges during the partial government shutdown.

The lawsuit came even as Congress appeared poised to pass legislation to end the shutdown and fund the government into January.

The suit claims the closure of federal refuge land during the shutdown violates provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and federal regulations and could “conservatively” result in more than $6 million in losses associated with state-authorized hunts and guided fishing.

Gov. Sean Parnell threatened to sue unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed its shutdown of federal refuges in Alaska by the close of business Tuesday. In letters to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Parnell said the service’s approach had been in stark contrast to that of other federal land agencies, namely, the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, during the shutdown.

“With everything else that is going on, litigation between our respective principals should be avoided,” he wrote in a letter to Jewell, dated Tuesday. “However, the financial impact and inconvenience to Alaskans can no longer be ignored, and we will seek to reopen these refuges based on the USFWS’ failure to follow its own closure regulations and other inconsistent positions adopted by DOI which have been repeatedly brought to your attention.” DOI is the Department of Interior.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Parnell and Jewell spoke Tuesday night, and Alaska’s attorney general spoke with Interior Department attorneys Wednesday morning, but no agreements were reached.

She said by email that even if Congress passed a plan to reopen the government, there still could be a repeat of what’s happened in the future, hence the lawsuit.

An Interior Department spokesman declined comment on pending litigation

The lawsuit names as defendants Jewell, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe, the Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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