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Alaska pursues lawsuit over refuge closures during government shutdown; feds seek dismissal

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Arguments are scheduled for July in Alaska's ongoing legal fight over the closure of national wildlife refuges during the partial shutdown of the federal government last year.

The lawsuit was filed in October, as Congress was poised to pass legislation to end the shutdown. It claimed the closure of refuge land during the shutdown violated provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The lawsuit was later amended to add the Alaska Professional Hunters Association as plaintiffs.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim the closures impaired the state's ability to manage fish, wildlife and other resources and affected the ability of hunting guides to use their permits, costing them money. The attorneys, in a March filing, state that hunters association member Mike Munsey estimated that he lost about $16,500 as a direct result of the refuge closures because he had to cancel hunts. One of his affected clients had traveled from Australia.

Munsey, according to the filing, expects that client and others will be more reluctant to book hunts with him and other Alaska guides "due to uncertainties created by this closure."

The attorneys claim that a loss of guided hunting opportunities by association members as a result of yet another shutdown "would impose economic losses of up to $6 million."

But the federal government, in court records, contends the lawsuit is moot since the refuges are open. Government attorney Dean Dunsmore, in a May filing, said while the plaintiffs point to past lapses in federal money, they do not contend that they were ever affected in any of those instances.

He said it is "entirely speculative" as to whether the plaintiffs would be impacted by a future lapse in funds.

Arguments on the government's motion to dismiss the state's case are scheduled for July 9.

Gov. Sean Parnell had threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unless it reversed its shutdown of federal refuges in Alaska by Oct. 15. In letters to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, he said the service's approach was in stark contrast to that of other federal land agencies, namely, the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, during the shutdown.

The state made good on the threat the following day. On Oct. 17, the shutdown ended.

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