A bull moose. (Photo courtesy of ADF&G).

The state’s challenge to the feds limiting a big game harvest north of the Glenn Highway to federally qualified subsistence hunters has been dealt a legal setback.

On Friday, a federal judge denied the state’s attempt to reopen that specific area to all state licensed hunters harvesting moose and caribou.

The legal back-and-forth stems from a decision the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) made in July, closing areas of the Richardson Highway, east of Denali, to all but federally registered subsistence hunters. The board justified that decision by saying the area was overcrowded and cited public safety concerns.

“The state contends that the closure is not the best way to address the public safety concerns and predicts that it will not have the desired effect,” wrote District Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason in a September 18 order. “That the state, or even the court, might prefer a different approach is not enough to render the FSB’s decision arbitrary and capricious.”

She also rejected the state’s central claim: that the board’s deliberations had violated the open meetings law.

Friday’s order denied a preliminary injunction that would have ended the hunting restrictions.

The case is part of a broader lawsuit brought by Alaska’s attorney general that also challenges the federal subsistence board’s decision that allowed a Southeast Alaska tribe to hunt out-of-season for moose and deer.

The Organized Village of Kake’s requested a special hunt due to the COVID-19 in April. It was green-lit by the federal subsistence board in June.

State attorneys have argued there was no food shortage making the hunt necessary. And that it was discriminatory to grant special hunting privileges to Alaska Natives. The federal government’s position has been supported by the Native American Rights Fund, a national law firm backing indigenous rights.

The federal judge has not ruled on the merits of that aspect of the case.

The state Department of Law didn’t immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment.