Brown bears safe from baiting in Alaskan refuge
(CN) — Alaskan brown bears notched two wins Monday, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to wade into the ban on bear baiting in the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's withdrawal of a decision to allow bear baiting on Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Both decisions came early Monday afternoon after years of contentious litigation regarding hunting rights in Alaska after the Obama administration in 2016 banned certain hunting practices in refuges including brown bear baiting.
A year later, Congress tried overturning these rules through the Congressional Review Act but the Ninth Circuit upheld the Obama-era regulations in April 2022.
In October 2022, the state of Alaska petitioned the high court asking whether the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act grants “federal agencies plenary authority to preempt state law regulating how people hunt.”
Attorneys for the federal government then filed an opposition brief arguing Fish and Wildlife’s 2016 rule did not prevent the state from reaching its brown bear harvest target for the Kenai Peninsula.
“In fact, notwithstanding the Kenai Rule, ‘in September 2022, the state’s wildlife management agency issued an emergency order to close the Kenai Peninsula brown bear hunting season because the number of bears taken had exceeded the maximum number allowed,'" the government wrote.
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take up Alaska's petition. Shortly after, Fish and Wildlife filed an unpublished rule withdrawing its June 2020 proposed rule to allow brown bear baiting at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
“Based on the extensive public comments submitted in opposition to the June 11, 2020, proposed rule and new information and scientific literature not previously considered, we have determined that the best course of action is to withdraw the proposed rule,” the agency said in its rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.
According to Fish and Wildlife, the agency received nearly 50,000 comments and all but 123 comments opposed “all or part of the proposed changes,” which not only included bear baiting at registered stations, but also trapping under state law without a federal permit, discharge of firearms along the Kenai and Russian rivers and increased access for bicycles, carts and vehicles on certain lakes when there is adequate snow and ice cover.
Conservationists applauded the decision.
“I'm thankful the Fish and Wildlife Service is withdrawing this cruel rule that would have turned this wildlife refuge into a slaughterhouse for Kenai brown bears,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Shooting bears at bait stations isn’t sporting and it’s not hunting. The vast majority of Alaskans and the American public want to see this iconic species protected, not gunned down by those seeking a thrill kill.”