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Llama Trekking on Public Lands - An Endangered Activity?

Endangered Activity - Llama Trekking on Public Lands 
(Photo by Linda Nuechterlein)

As longtime camelid owners may recall, back in the mid 1990’s Canyonlands National Park (NPS-Utah) had proposed a camelid prohibition that was based on a perceived threat of disease transmission to wildlife. Consequently, the camelid owner/veterinary community at the time felt it had no other option than to initiate a lawsuit. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior was named as a defendant because NPS is a U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) agency. Faced with the lawsuit, NPS quickly changed its position and the disease issue was settled out of court exonerating camelids as a disease threat. Now, more than 20 years later, another DOI agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alaska has decided to prohibit camelids in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on the basis that they are a disease threat to wildlife. Nothing has changed since the Canyonlands NPS lawsuit in that no scientific evidence has ever been identified by any DOI agency that would incriminate pack camelids as a disease threat to wildlife. In spite of the camelid community's public comments with supporting scientific evidence, and expert testimony by Dr. Kutzler, the USFWS promulgated a final rule effective August 31, 2020 that prohibits the use of camelids in ANWR.  Here's a link to the final rule on the Federal Register

The USFWS ANWR Lawsuit
Because the August 2020 ANWR camelid prohibition was a final rule with no opportunity to appeal, the camelid community felt it had no other option but to again file a lawsuit. The USFWS final rule is in direct conflict with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) position that does not identify camelids as a disease threat to wildlife. ADF&G has the staff and the resources to properly evaluate any risk. ADF&G manages the wildlife in the ANWR jurisdiction. The ANWR decision is federal overreach in that they are overriding the official State of Alaska position on the camelid disease issue. 

The precedent setting decision in ANWR will undoubtedly trigger more camelid prohibitions in other government jurisdictions. Camelid owners in Arizona and Utah have already been denied commercial packing permits by federal agencies that are perceiving camelids as a wildlife disease threat. With this latest USFWS-ANWR decision, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM – also a DOI agency) may perceive this as a green light to proceed with camelid prohibitions that could be included in planning documents that are forthcoming in 2021. BLM has already revealed their intention to prohibit camelids in some Alaska jurisdictions. This ANWR decision will undoubtedly spread to other Alaska and lower 48 government agencies and harm the entire industry by identifying camelids as a wildlife disease threat. 

The Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association (GALA) agreed to earmark funds to initiate a lawsuit against the USFWS/DOI. GALA selected a law firm with attorneys having both veterinary expertise and legal experience with federal agencies. The International Llama Registry (ILR) recently contributed funds to GALA toward the lawsuit. The law firm has identified both USFWS procedural errors in implementing the ANWR camelid prohibition as well as the lack of scientific evidence to support a camelid disease threat. 

A funding campaign has been initiated to help pay for legal fees. To contribute go here: Llama Defense Fund.  All contributions go directly to GALA. 

The law firm felt that it was important to name Alaska residents as plaintiffs as they are directly affected by the ANWR decision so Phil and Linda Nuechterlein are named as plaintiffs They are Alaska residents that have historically used pack llamas in ANWR since the mid 1980’s. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2020.  

by Phil Nuechterlein