The National Park Service proposes to ban “controversial” hunting methods in Alaska’s federal reserves

grizzly, river, denali, september, fall

The National Park Service wants to reinstate bans on what it calls “controversial” hunting activities on federal reserves in Alaska, including baiting bears, shooting caribou or killing wolf pups in their dens.

The agency, which said the activities were inconsistent with traditional concepts of sport hunting, also suggested banning predator-reduction efforts in its reserves, according to eight pages. Notice of the proposed rules published Monday in the Federal Register.

The post begins a two-month public comment period that ends March 10.

The Biden administration’s proposal marks the third time in eight years that the federal government has visited the issue of hunting and trapping in Alaska’s federal reserves. If passed, the current proposal would restore Obama-era rules authorized in 2015 and Reversing it in 2020 under the Trump administration.

The state of Alaska and a hunting advisor group have voiced their opposition to the proposal, saying it would undermine the state’s ability to manage wildlife and could jeopardize some efforts to reduce predator numbers.

Environmental groups have applauded the plan, saying it will halt inhumane hunting in reserves, increase tourism by protecting wildlife and improve visitor safety by reducing the likelihood of encounters. between bears and people.

The National Park Service said in a statment Last week that the proposal, if passed, would “properly reflect the federal government’s authority to regulate hunting and trapping” on the state’s national reserves.

“This proposed rule will realign our efforts to improve management of Alaska National Parks for natural operations, as well as address public safety concerns associated with bear baiting,” said Sarah Kreichbaum, regional director for the Alaska National Park Service.

But state wildlife officials say the federal government’s argument is wrong: If the Park Service regulates hunting and trapping on federal reserves, it interferes with the state’s legal responsibilities.

Doug Vincent Lang, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the proposed change would affect Alaska’s right under federal law to manage the state’s hunting and fishing, including on federal lands.

He said the state was disappointed that the Park Service had already consulted with some entities in Alaska during the development of the proposed rule, such as tribal organizations, but had not reached out to the state.

“In my initial reading of this, this raises some important issues related to the state’s ability to manage fish and wildlife on federal lands, which were guaranteed to us in the state and by ‘federal law,'” said Vincent Lang.

“My guess is that if this one survives the rule-making process, it will go to court and[we will defend]our authority to manage fish and wildlife on federal lands,” he said.

Fishing is “sport”, not subsistence

The National Park Service notice stated that in addition to banning predator control on the reserves, the proposed rules would ban practices that are “inconsistent with generally accepted concepts of ‘sports’ hunting.”

They will prevent taking:

• Black bears, including cubs, are seeded with cubs, with artificial light in their den sites.

• Black bears and brown bears use bait.

• Wolves and coyotes, including pups, during urination season.

• Ibex swimming.

• Caribou from mobile motorboats.

The agency said the proposed changes would not affect federal subsistence crops in national parks and reserves.

“This only affects sport hunting,” said Peter Christian, a spokesman for the Alaska National Park Service. Nor does it apply to national parks, where sport hunting has already been banned.

The agency manages 10 reserves in Alaska totaling 22 million acres, including Denali National Park and Preserve, where the preserve is located west of the park.

Christian said the Park Service believes the hunting and trap practices permitted in 2020 only occurred in limited circumstances. He said that it is not allowed to enter the reserves except after obtaining permission from the state.

But now the Park Service has determined that the “factual, legal and policy inferences underlying the (2020) rule are incorrect,” he said.

The proposal also marks an important shift from the Trump administration’s rule change when it comes to bear baiting.

In its proposed regulation, the Park Service says it did not fully consider expert input in 2020 when it determined that bear baiting was warranted on reserves.

However, in order to set the rules, officials interviewed several national park resource managers and Alaskan wildlife biologists who said that catching bears would change the animals’ behavior, increase the likelihood that bears will be killed in defense of life and property, and create a “medium to high” risk. . Risks of injury to the visiting public or possibly death in encountering a bear, according to a federal registry filing.

The National Park Service now says bears can get used to the human food used in the bait, and says bears are more likely to attack when defending a food source.

The agency notes that steps the state has taken to mitigate human bear encounters around bear-baiting, such as banning stations within a quarter-mile of a trail or road, do not adequately reduce the risk because bears are so widespread, and hunters transporting food to a station may use the same Path, road or waterway as other park visitors.

The agency says the 2020 rule has been largely opposed by members of the public who have commented. More than 99% of the more than 200,000 public comments disagreed with the 2020 rule.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleeson in Sept have found That the 2020 rule violated the Administrative Procedure Code. But she didn’t ignore the rule, noting that the National Park Service was already reevaluating it.

Wildlife Management, Wildlife Values

Thor Stacy, director of government affairs for the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, which represents many Alaskan fishing guides, said the group opposes the proposed rule.

In particular, it could harm rural people who depend primarily on caribou, moose and other wild animals for most of their diet, Stacy said.

He said the proposed rule would prevent the state from allowing the hunting of predators such as bears, even if the hunting is not a predator-control measure by the state. This can, for example, lead to a decline in moose numbers, which is a major problem in areas with limited access to store-bought food.

“If a state can’t effectively manage wildlife, including bear and wolf hunts, then you really don’t have wildlife management anymore because you can’t have a predator season anymore if it has any kind of benefit to prey species,” Stacey said. .

But Nicole Schmidt, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the case against the 2020 rules, said the group is “excited” about the ban.

Bear hunting can involve the use of human foods, such as donuts or bacon fat, She said it creates potential safety issues to keep visitors if bears associate humans with these foods.

“We fundamentally believe that these practices should not be allowed and are illegal on protected lands for sport hunting,” she said. “Allowing sport hunting of bears while hibernating and wolves while in disguise is problematic.”

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