The National Park Service has published its final rule on hunting in Alaska’s national preserves, turning a corner in a long-running tussle with the state. While most state hunting rules continue to apply, the Park Service is now enacting a permanent ban on several controversial hunting practices allowed under state law. The new Park Service ban includes using artificial lights to shoot black bears in the den, and using bait to hunt bears.
Bruce Dale, the state’s director of Wildlife Conservation, says the banned methods are not common hunting practices, and the state doesn’t allow them everywhere. But he says the new federal rules will still hurt certain hunters. And, Dale says, it’s a federal incursion on the legal right of the state to manage its own fish and game.
“It’s a problem for us,” Dale said. “We’ve been given the authority to be the primary managers and we take that very seriously, and we think we’re good at it.”
Dale says the state is considering its next move.
The new rules apply to sport hunting on 20 million acres of preserve land, managed by the National Park Service. They don’t change federal subsistence rules, and don’t apply in National Parks themselves, where sport hunting is illegal. The feds say they are really re-imposing bans on methods the state used to consider illegal, including harvesting wolves and coyotes in denning season, when their pelts aren’t valuable.
When the rule was pending, it drew more than 70,000 public comments.
Jim Stratton, the newly retired Alaska director for the National Parks Conservation Association, is delighted to see the final rule.
“Literally, … I was doing backflips,” he said. “I’ve been working on this issue for over 10 years.”
Stratton says the state Board of Game has allowed hunting methods that are incompatible with the mission of the Parks Service, the agency in charge of managing the national preserves.
“Bear snaring and bear baiting and spot lighting bears – you know, shooting Boo-Boo when he’s taking his winter nap in his den — that just doesn’t have any place in lands managed by the National Park Service.”
At the heart of the issue is a conflict over the point of wildlife management. By law, the state’s goal is “sustained yield” –basically, keeping moose and caribou numbers high enough for hunting, sometimes by shrinking bear and wolf populations. But the National Park Service tries to preserve natural ecosystems, and spokesman John Quinley says its policies prohibit manipulating natural predator numbers to favor prey.
“Our mandate from Congress is different than the state of Alaska’s.”
Rod Arno, a hunting advocate and director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, says he suspects this is just the beginning of a federal power play. Arno says the feds are starting by banning rare practices, like using lights to kill bears in the den, because they’re not popular.
“That is such a small group that would ever participate in that, that there would be very little draw,” Arno said. “And the other thing is that people, when they hear those things, most people who aren’t subsistence users, they look at hunting and they’re always concerned about fair chase.”
Arno says killing bears in the den is a traditional practice in parts of the state, and using a flashlight is a safety measure. Now that the rule is finally published, Arno says he hopes the state will challenge it to the U.S. Supreme Court.