In a party-line vote overriding the objections of the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and Alaska wildlife protection groups, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on 16 February 2017 nullifying Obama-era Department of Interior regulations that prohibit the use of such tactics as baiting, spotlighting, and aerial spotting to hunt predatory animals on national preserve lands in Alaska.

If passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump, H.J. Res. 69 will hand jurisdiction over the hunting of bears, wolves, and coyotes on Alaska’s 20 million acres of federally-protected national preserves back to the state, which, since 1994, has had “predator control” laws on the books aimed at maximizing wild game populations for recreational hunting.

After years of disputing the legality of some of these practices, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented new rules in 2015 and 2016 permanently banning them in national preserves. The rules, which do not apply to subsistence hunting nor to lands not under the protection of the federal government, prohibit the following:

  • Taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs (exception allowed for resident hunters to take black bear cubs or sows with cubs under customary and traditional use activities at a den site October 15 – April 30 in specific game management units in accordance with State law);
  • Taking brown bears over bait;
  • Taking of bears using traps or snares;
  • Taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season (May 1 – August 9); and
  • Taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred. The take of wolves or wolverines from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred is already prohibited under current refuge regulations.

Despite support from scientific, environmental, and animal welfare advocacy groups, the regulations have been unpopular with many Alaskans. In January 2017, Alaska officials filed a lawsuit contending that the regulations amount to federal overreach and will have an adverse impact on the ecosystem and citizens of the state. In February 2017, with the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club International, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced H.J. Res. 69 to redress what he termed a “wrongful seizure of authority” by the federal government:

From the beginning, I said I would do everything in my power to overturn this illegal jurisdictional power grab by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, we’re one step closer to delivering on that commitment and eliminating a wrongful seizure of Alaska’s fish and wildlife management authority. I’m thankful to all those that played a role in moving this important resolution of disapproval, including that countless state and local stakeholders that worked with me to fight a very serious and alarming overreach by the Executive Branch. I look forward to seeing the swift consideration of H.J. Res. 69 in the Senate.

The Humane Society of the United States took exception in a 16 February 2017 statement arguing that passage of the bill should “shock the conscience of every animal lover in America”:

The U.S. House of Representatives overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that stopped a set of appalling and unsporting predator control methods on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. These egregious practices include shooting or trapping wolves while at their dens with cubs, using airplanes to scout for grizzly bears to shoot, trapping bears with cruel steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares and luring grizzly bears with food to get a point blank kill. Republicans, with only a few dissents, provided the votes for the measure, which passed by a vote of 225 to 193.

H.J. Res. 69 is now before the Senate, where it must be passed and sent to President Trump for signature before it can take effect.

Sources:

Milman, Oliver.    “Top Scientists Back Federal Plan to Protect Alaska Predators.”
      The Guardian.      29 March 2016.

Phillips, Phil.     “Alaska Sues Feds Over New USFWS Hunting Regs.”
NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum.         23 January 2017.

Schweig, Sarah V.      “People Want to Shoot Hibernating Bear Families — and the Government Just Voted to Let Them.”
The Dodo.     17 February 2017.

Yehle, Emily.     “Alaska Challenges Federal Bear, Wolf Hunting Rules.”
      E&E News.      16 January 2017.

Defenders of Wildlife.      “Open Letter to Secretary Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
      28 March 2016.

Federal Register.     “Alaska; Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves — A Rule by the National Park Service.”
      23 October 2015.

Federal Register.      “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska — A Rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
5 August 2016.

The Humane Society of the United States.     “House Overturns Rule from Professional Wildlife Management Agency and Sanctions Killing Hibernating Bears and Wolf Pups in Dens.”
      16 February 2017.

Office of U.S. Congressman Don Young.      “Congressman Young Works to Overturn Obama-Era Rules Impacting Alaska.”
      8 February 2017.

Trustees for Alaska.      “Conservation Groups Join Lawsuits on Predator Control.”
      8 February 2017.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.      “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Publishes Final Rule for Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife and Closure Regulations.”
      3 August 2016.

U.S. National Park Service.      “NPS-Alaska Finalizes Sport Hunting Regulations.”
      23 October 2015.