Commissioner Sam Cotten today welcomed announcement of the National Park Service’s proposed amendments to its 2015 Final Rule for Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves in Alaska. The proposed changes would remove regulatory provisions issued in October 2015 that significantly expanded authority given to the National Park Service by Congress for fish and wildlife management in Alaska’s national preserves.
“The new proposed regulations acknowledge that the State of Alaska has the primary authority to manage wildlife throughout Alaska,” said Cotten. “State of Alaska and Park Service policies were consistent for decades; no conservation concern or scientific basis existed to justify the 2015 changes.”
Social media posts and media reports have begun to cloud the issue with claims that the proposed changes will open the door for state predator control programs on Park Service lands. To be clear, the state does not conduct predator control in national preserves, and wildlife harvests under general hunting regulations aren’t part of predator control programs. The state would be allowed to conduct predator control in preserves only with Park Service authorization.
The state’s goal, as primary wildlife manager on all lands within its borders, will be to continue maintaining healthy and sustainable wildlife populations, both predators and prey. This is consistent with the state constitution and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act provisions that maintain the historical authorities of the state to manage fish and wildlife.
“We look forward to working with our federal partners to maintain a cooperative relationship,” Cotten said. “We encourage Alaskans to review and offer their comments on the Park Service’s proposed changes.”
The Trump Administration announced its intentions to alter bear and other predator hunting regulations on Alaska federal land. Here’s the full release from the Department of the Interior:
The summary of that report:
On October 23, 2015, the National Park Service (NPS) published a final rule (Final Rule) to amend its regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska (80 FR 64325). The Final Rule codified prohibitions on certain types of harvest practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska. The practices are: taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown 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; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears. This rule is inconsistent with State of Alaska’s hunting regulations found at 5 AAC Part 85.
And a few more details from the Anchorage Daily News:
National preserves are parts of national parks designated by Congress to allow fishing, hunting, mining or other resource extraction. Central to the dispute is a 1994 state law that focuses on controlling predators — wolves, bears and other carnivores — in order to keep game such as caribou abundant for hunters. The Obama-era park service said that federal law doesn’t support reducing predators to boost populations of their prey.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is vociferously opposed to the rule, which he said tramples on the state’s regulatory control over hunting. Young was able to pass a law revoking a similar Obama-era regulation issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, because the administration issued it nearer to the end of President Barack Obama’s final term. But the park service rule remained in place.
The 2015 rule demonstrated a long-running disagreement between federal and state game management officials on how to best manage predator populations in Alaska. In 2015, the park service said that certain hunting practices mess with predator-prey dynamics and upset the balance for harvest purposes, while causing problems for public safety.
But now the park service — under a new administration — has changed its mind. The proposed rule will delete portions of the 2015 rule that set limits on hunting that are not in line with state regulations.
The banned practices the park service plans to reverse include: “taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown 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; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears,” according to the proposed rule.
The state disputes that the hunting methods currently barred by the park service “are intended to function as a predator control program,” the proposed rule said. “The State also maintains that any effects to the natural abundances, diversities, distributions, densities, age-class distributions, populations, habitats, genetics, and behaviors of wildlife from implementing its regulations are likely negligible,” the proposed rule said.
These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015. Members of the public have 60 days to provide comment on the proposed new rules.
“The conservation of wildlife and habitat for future generations is a goal we share with Alaska,” said Bert Frost, the park service’s regional director. “This proposed rule will reconsider NPS efforts in Alaska for improved alignment of hunting regulations on national preserves with State of Alaska regulations, and to enhance consistency with harvest regulations on surrounding non-federal lands and waters.”
Alaska has 10 national preserves covering nearly 37,000 square miles (95,830 square kilometers).
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was “pleased to see the National Park Service working to better align federal regulations with State of Alaska hunting and trapping regulations,” Maria Gladziszewski, the state agency’s deputy director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in an email to The Associated Press.
She said the proposal is “progress in that direction, and we appreciate those efforts. Alaskans benefit when state and federal regulations are consistent.”
Gladziszewski said the state doesn’t conduct predator control in national preserves. “Predator control could be allowed in preserves only with federal authorization because such actions are subject to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review,” she said.
Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke , a former Montana congressman who displays a taxidermied bear in his Washington office along with mounted heads from a bison and an elk.
The Obama-era restrictions on hunting on federal lands in Alaska were challenged by Safari Club International, a group that promotes big-game hunting. The Associated Press reported in March that Zinke had appointed a board loaded with trophy hunters to advise him on conserving threatened and endangered wildlife, including members of the Safari Club.
President Donald Trump’s sons are also avid trophy hunters who have made past excursions to Africa and Alaska.