It was a busy morning for Alaska Congressman Don Young. On the floor of the U.S. House, he took on a trio of iconic Alaska issues – polar bears, state sovereignty and what to do with the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Young prevailed on all three counts.
It was the lightning round of Congressional argument, where each side has five minutes to make their case. The subject: the House Sportsman’s bill. Among its 74 pages was a provision Young has been working on for years, to allow the importation of 41 polar bear trophies from Canada, so the Americans who shot them — in legal hunts — can possess them.
Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee proposed to strike the polar bear measure. Jackson Lee, a Democrat, says lifting the importation ban for 41 trophies will encourage others to skirt the laws on hunting rare animals.
“These laws did not stop a handful of wealthy individuals from flying up to Canada to bag a trophy polar bear for their collection back home, even though they were warned that U.S. law would prohibit the importation of skins heads and other products from bears they were hunting,” she said.
Young defended the provision, which would help two Alaskans, among the 41 hunters.
“I’m always amazed somebody is going to save a species that’s not endangered — in fact, it’s not threatened — because they are going to save dead bears, shot legally,’ he said. “I oppose this amendment. It’s a mischievous amendment. It’s an amendment that was (made) by the Humane Society.”
(The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the polar bear as a “threatened” species. A spokesman for Young says the Congressman may have said it wasn’t threatened because he was referring to the Canadian population at the time of the hunt.) Young handily defeated the amendment, which fell about 60 votes short.
Young’s next challenge: Defeating federal over-reach in Alaska. Specifically, defending Alaska’s right to manage fish and game on federal land. Young offered an amendment to the sportsman’s bill to roll back new federal rules on hunting predators on Alaska’s national preserves, and a similar proposed rule for refuges. The federal government wants the new rules to protect wolf and bear populations, while the state wants to control predator numbers to allow for more moose and caribou.
Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, spoke against Young’s amendment, in defense of the federal hunting rules.
“This rule would prevent spotlighting black bears and shooting them and their cubs, babies, in their dens,” she said. “It would prevent using bait to attract and kill bears. It would prevent killing wolves during their denning season. Again, babies. And it would prevent killing of caribou from a motorboat while under power.”
Young says Dingell’s description doesn’t accurately reflect state hunting rules.
“And by the way, it’s against the law to shoot species of animals from a boat. This doesn’t change that.”
Young says for the feds to impose their own hunting rules is a violation of the bargain struck in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
“If you want the federal government to manage everything, 100 million acres, that we agreed that we could manage under the ANILCA law, the state, if you want the government to take that all over, let’s just give the government all the land!”
Apparently House members did not want that. They approved Young’s wildlife management amendment by a substantial margin.
For his final round, Young defeated a proposal to impose wilderness status, the highest level of protection in the federal land management handbook, on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, sponsored that amendment, which would have kept the area off limits to oil drilling but fell 42 votes short. Huffman says Americans want wilderness protection for that stretch of northern coast.
“The Arctic Refuge is wild. It’s spectacular. Most important, it’s owned by all Americans, not by the oil industry,” he said.
Young didn’t sound too worked up.
“You know, I always admire my friend from California,” Young said. “He doesn’t know squat about the Arctic Wildlife Range. That’s the truth. You may have camped out in it. But you didn’t camp out in the area which we would like to drill for oil, that this Congress set aside.”
Young is about to mark 43 years in office. He told his colleagues if they want to get rid of him, they should pass a bill to open ANWR and he’d consider retiring.
The Sportsman’s bill passed the House easily. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.