National Park Service Bans Bear Baiting Hunts On Alaska National Preserve Land

Photo by Brian Watkins

As was suggested last year, the National Park Service indeed announced a bear baiting ban on Alaska national preserve lands.

Here’s the National Park Service press release:

National Park Service Releases Amended Alaska Sport Hunting and Trapping Regulation to Protect Visitor Safety and Wildlife

Date: June 28, 2024
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The National Park Service (NPS) today announced a final rule that amends its 2020 regulation for sport hunting and trapping in Alaska national preserves. The new rule, which applies only to sport hunting, prohibits bear baiting due to significant public safety concerns. The final rule reflects extensive engagement with stakeholders, Alaska Native Tribes and Corporations, local and state leaders, and the public.   

In February 2022, the NPS initiated rulemaking to reconsider the 2020 regulation after early engagement with Alaska Native Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations. Later that year, a Federal District judge remanded the 2020 regulation back to NPS to address the court’s decision that the 2020 rule violated NPS laws and policies in some respects.  

The new rule addresses the court’s concerns and is more consistent with NPS obligations to manage for natural processes, protect wildlife and promote visitor safety. NPS accomplished this by focusing the rule to address urgent public safety dangers posed by bear baiting, which had been authorized by the 2020 rule. Bear baiting encourages bears to become conditioned to human-provided food, increasing the likelihood of negative human-bear interactions. The final rule also affirms the federal government’s role in wildlife management on Alaska national preserves, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and does not affect activities by qualified federal subsistence users. 

“The amended rule will advance wildlife conservation goals and objectives, including a prohibition on bear baiting in our national preserves, as mandated under the NPS Organic Act of 1916,” NPS Alaska Regional Director Sarah Creachbaum said. “We take our responsibilities under ANILCA seriously and the new rule reflects our commitment to providing conscientious service to the American public.”  

 The amended rule Hunting and Trapping in Alaska National Preserves will be available in the Federal Register in the coming days but can be previewed on the NPS website. The final rule will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. 

As part of the overall amended hunting regulations on Alaska’s national preserves, there is some pushback from environmental groups.

NPS stated the following in their report:

On June 9, 2020, the NPS published a final rule (2020 Rule; 85 FR 35181) that removed restrictions on sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska that were implemented by the NPS in 2015 (2015 Rule; 80 FR 64325). These included restrictions on the following methods of taking wildlife that were and continue to be authorized by the State in certain locations: taking black bear cubs, and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; and using dogs to hunt black bears. 

The 2015 Rule prohibited other harvest practices that were and continue to be similarly prohibited by the State. These prohibitions also were removed by the 2020 Rule. The 2020 Rule also removed a statement in the 2015 Rule that State laws or management actions that seek to, or have the potential to, alter or manipulate natural predator populations or processes in order to increase harvest of ungulates by humans are not allowed in national preserves in Alaska. The NPS based the 2020 Rule in part on direction from the Department of the Interior (DOI) to expand recreational hunting opportunities and align hunting opportunities with those established by states. Secretary’s Orders 3347 and 3356. The 2020 Rule also responded to direction from the Secretary of the Interior to review and reconsider regulations that were more restrictive than state provisions, and specifically the restrictions on harvesting wildlife found in the 2015 Rule. On January 9, 2023, the NPS published a proposed rule (88 FR 1176) that would prohibit certain harvest practices, including bear baiting; and would prohibit predator control or predator reduction on national preserves. In developing the proposed rule, NPS sought input from Tribal entities, subsistence user groups, and the State of Alaska.

Here’s some reaction from Center From Biological Diversity’s Cooper Freeman:

“The National Park Service outrageously failed wolves, bears and caribou across Alaska’s treasured national parklands,” said Cooper Freeman, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Allowing sport hunters to trap and kill wolf pups and their mothers during denning season, shoot swimming caribou, and use dogs to hunt black bears is abhorrent, harmful and unsporting. Alaska’s wildlife deserves so much better than this deeply flawed Park Service rule.”