The Case Against H.J.Resolution 69 and S.J.Resolution 18

House lawmakers, on Thursday, February 16th, passed a measure to repeal a recently implemented rule that banned abhorrent practices such as shooting/ trapping wolves while at dens with pups, killing hibernating bears and spotting Grizzlies from aircraft for kill upon landing. The rule aligns with a similar National Park Service rule, which was finalized in October, 2015, banning abhorrent practices such as “bear baiting” and the Game Boards liberal predator control “management”.

The legislation, authored by Representative Don Young, would undo the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule, opening the door for the state to resume aggressive predator control tactics including shooting wolves from airplanes, spotting bears from aircraft for kill upon landing, and killing cubs and pups in their dens on more than 76 million acres of national wildlife refuge land in Alaska. A recently introduced companion measure (S.J.Resolution 18), sponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan, also seeks to erode federal management authority over Alaska Wildlife Refuges and should be set aside. 

Under the rule, issued August 3rd, 2016, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, predator control is not allowed on Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges “unless it is determined to be necessary to meet refuge purposes, is consistent with federal laws and policy and is based on sound science in response to a conservation concern.” The law also bans specific hunting methods on Alaska refuges, including killing bear cubs or adult females with cubs, baiting brown bears, taking bears using snares and traps, and aerial shooting of bears and wolves.

  • The rule “clarifies how existing mandates for the conservation of natural and biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health on refuges in Alaska relate to predator control; prohibits several particularly effective methods and means for take of predators”. The rule formally established a goal of biodiversity as the guiding principle of federal management of wildlife refuges. The rule also made it clear there would be no impact on subsistence hunters. 

In a blog post published the day of the final ruling in August, former FWS Director Dan Ashe said that in implementing Alaska’s Intensive Management Law, the Alaska Board of Game had “unleashed a withering attack  on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America’s long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting.”

 Under Title VIII (Subsistence Management And Use) of the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), Alaska Natives and other rural residents were granted hunting and fishing rights (when fish and game are not under outside threat) on National Preserves. The ANILCA did not, however, allow Alaska to manage its wildlife as it has been ~ which is not unlike a game farm, where wolves and bears are decimated to allow unchecked trophy hunting and commercial guiding, and led to the implementation of tighter restrictions by the National Park Service. Alaska is unique among the 50 states for allowing sport and subsistence hunting in the 17 million acres of national preserves added to the National Park System by the ANILCA.  While Congress recognized the “important value of subsistence and (sadly) sport hunting”, it allowed both to take place only where consistent with the mandate to protect and conserve wildlife resources. State sport hunting regulations passed by the Alaska Board of Game apply on public lands, but only when those regulations do not conflict with federal mandates or National Park policies. 

(In Alaska, the wildlife law known as the Intensive Management statute is in conflict with federal laws governing national park lands and the management of wildlife on those lands. Preemption, the constitutional doctrine which holds that when federal law and state law conflict, federal law must be followed, and state law must yield, requires the State of Alaska to refrain from implementing the Intensive Management statute on national park lands because of the conflict with federal laws.)

The Board, however, noticeably became increasingly aggressive in its efforts to implement predator control on federal public lands through liberalization of sport hunting and trapping regulations. For example in 1994, the Alaska Legislature passed the Intensive Management Statute with which the explicit goal was to maintain, restore, or increase the abundance of big game populations for human consumptive use.

The following 2 maps illustrate the enormous expansion of state designated predator control areas (PCA) from 2001 to 2014. The maps also show that the boundaries of most national preserves had been encroached upon and many had become virtually surrounded by Predator Control Areas in just 14 years. Note the vast increase of “wolf control” areas (in yellow).

The Board has also practiced intensive  management by liberalizing sport hunting regulations, including:

•Increasing bag limits from five per season up to 20 per season or 10 per day (as high as 20 a day for wolves in some areas of the state), and liberalizing hunting seasons for predators to increase their “harvest”.

•Eliminating the need for hunters to obtain or purchase hunting tags or permits for predators.

•Permitting  the incidental taking of predators.

•Authorizing same-day airborne hunting and trapping, which allows hunters to take predators the same day they’ve been flying.

•Allowing the use of bait to lure predators.

•And, of course, the aerial gunning of wolves. 

Note that in 2011, the Board issued an emergency order to extend wolf hunting and trapping seasons in GMUs 9 and 10 to increase caribou numbers and as a way of getting around the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s prohibition on aerial wolf control programs on Unimak Island. 

Furthermore, the board has repeatedly refused to reduce the impact of its programs on National Preserves.  For example, in the spring  of 2014, the radio-collared Lost Creek wolf pack left the borders of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and was eliminated through aerial shooting by state agents implementing one of the Board’s intensive management plans. The Park Service had been studying the Lost Creek pack for seven years as part of a roughly 20-year study of wolves in the Yukon Charley National Preserve; The State predator control efforts killed 36 wolves in the area in a single year, reducing the preserve’s population by over half. 

Another example is the Board’s 2010 elimination of the 122 square-mile buffer adjacent to Denali National Park that protected wolves crossing its boundaries from hunting and trapping~Two years later, the wolf populations in the Park were the lowest in decades.

The USFWS acted admirably to prevent application of state regulations which are incompatible with management objectives for the nearly 77 million acres of wildlife refuges across the state.

The National Park Service has also been at odds with the State which led to the implementation of tighter restrictions on sport hunting (the closure regulations became effective Nov. 23 2015, and new hunting regulations effective January 1, 2016. More information regarding the NPS regulations can be found here.

When H.J. Resolution 69 is brought to the floor for a vote, I ask that you please stand by our wildlife and Public Lands, vote against this disgraceful and appalling attempt to reinstate animal cruelty on our wildlife refuges. The companion measure introduced in the Senate is equally shameful in its attempt to undo The Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule and should be voted down; the states do not have a right to dictate what happens on our National Wildlife Refuges. 

Related content:

 Fish and Wildlife Service Wise to Oppose Alaska’s War on Wolves   A must read op-ed by Vic Van Ballenberghe who is a wildlife biologist and a former member of the Alaska Board of Game.  

Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule questions and answers.

Representative Don Young’s biography and colorful array of Congressional statements

 Stop Alaska’s War on Wolves from NPCA

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