Park service allows for crude hunting practices in Alaska

WASHINGTON (CN) — Alaskan hunters can once again use donuts to bait bears from their dens, and they can kill wolf and coyote pups during denning season, thanks to the latest regulatory rollback of the Trump administration Tuesday.

Published in the Federal Register and set to take effect in 30 days, the rule from the National Park Service removes prohibitions enacted during the Obama administration in 2015 against certain hunting and trapping practices that Alaska state law otherwise permits.

“Removing this provision will expand harvest opportunities, complement regulations on lands and waters within and surrounding national preserves, and defer to the State in regard to fish and wildlife management,” the 35-page rule states.

Alaska had sued the Interior Department over the rules three years ago, saying they interfered with residents’ way of life and ability to feed their families.

Among other practices, the Obama rule prohibited hunters from using flashlights to see inside brown and black bear dens; tracking bears with dogs; or luring the animals out into the open with piles of bait.

The rule also prevented hunters and trappers from using motorboats to shoot swimming caribou, and from taking wolves and coyotes or their pups between May and August when the animals are getting ready to give birth, a period known as denning season.

Environmentalists have been quick to dispute Alaska’s claim about putting food on the table.

“This isn’t about subsistence hunting,” Pat Lavin, the Alaska policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife, said in an interview. “This is about sport hunting. Subsistence is managed separately by a federal subsistence board and there you can have different types of rules that do try to accommodate traditional and historic subsistence activities.”

Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, made a similar point.

“We’re talking about grizzly bears and animals that are not traditionally eaten at all,” she said. “Their pelts might be sold for profit, but those animals are much more valuable alive and in the wild where they play a very important ecological role.”

Adkins underscored the importance of protecting wild species in Alaska because these animals have been “historically decimated in the lower 48 states due to overhunting and lack of regulation.”

“What we’re seeing here with this rule from the Trump administration is a handout to trophy hunters,” she noted in a phone call Tuesday.

Congressman Don Young and Governor Michael Dunleavy are among the officials claiming otherwise.

“Hunting and responsible management of wildlife are an integral part of the Alaskan lifestyle and this will further align hunting regulations on the federal level with those established by the state of Alaska for the benefit of Alaskans,” Dunleavy said in May when the rule change was first proposed.

Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski likewise said the decision “protects Alaska’s hunting and fishing traditions and upholds long-standing states’ rights.”

Jonathan Turley, an attorney and public interest law professor at George Washington University, meanwhile spoke out against the new rule Tuesday.

“Such practices have devastated the wolf population and other predators, which environmentalists have long charged is the true purpose to increase the number of game animals for hunters,” he said in a blog post. “The killing of these predators throws off the ecosystem and does great harm to our national parks.”

Tuesday’s rule change has been in progress since 2018 when then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a memo that said states should control fish and wildlife management on federal lands.

The National Park Service said Tuesday it “reconsidered its prior position” because the “2015 rule conflicts with federal and state laws which allow for hunting and trapping in national preserves.”

With the change, Alaska now assumes full authority of wildlife management on national preserves. The state is home to eight national parks, the second highest of any state after California, which has nine.

“The amended rule will support the department’s interest in advancing wildlife conservation goals and objectives, and in ensuring the state of Alaska’s proper management of hunting and trapping in our national preserves, as specified in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act,” Deputy Director David Vela said in a statement.

Adkins said her organization is concerned about the effect that the rule rollback will have on the animals in general.

“We care about the role that these individual animals play — not just their ecological roles, but also for all sorts of systems of those preserves. For wildlife watchers, birdwatchers, hikers. Folks that are just out there to enjoy the beauty of those faces,” she said. “We don’t need those places to turn into trophy hunting amusement parks.”

Lavin at Defenders of Wildlife said his organization is planning on holding the National Park Service accountable to its wildlife-management duties.

“The killing a bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens is not a practice we should be allowing on park service lands,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Trump’s revisions abandon the primary purpose of national preserved lands, which is to conserve wildlife and wild places, “and that includes preserving natural predator prey interactions and otherwise managing wildlife in its natural diversity,” Lavin added.