Bans on game harvest techniques currently under review

Black bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The Trump administration has directed the National Park Service in Alaska and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to reconsider bans on certain state allowed game harvest techniques. July 14th memos to the directors of the two Alaska entities from Virginia Johnson, acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, tell them to initiate a new rule making process, in light of effects on sport and commercial hunting and trapping.

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In an email response to a request for comment, Interior Department press secretary Heather Swift said there is no predetermined outcome of the reviews and that “the Department is committed to working with the people of Alaska on how to best manage their wildlife and habitat”.

The reviews mean second looks at regulations banning a range of state allowed harvest practices, including taking black bears with artificial light at den sites, killing of brown and black bears over bait, use of dogs to hunt black bears, harvest of wolves and coyotes during denning season and killing swimming caribou, or taking them from a motorboat while under power.

National Park Service Alaska Region spokesman John Quinley said the agency will have to do over, the rule making process used for development of the current regulations.

”To go back out to the public, I can’t speculate on what any new proposed rule might include,” Quinley said. “But public input’s gonna be a key part of the process.”

Quinley said the majority of comments received during the first go round were in favor of the regulations banning the harvest practices.

”But rule making is not a voting contest,” Quinley said.

Pat Lavin is the Alaska representative for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

“Targeting predators and managing them to scarcity is not consistent with the purpose of the refuge and preserve lands,” Lavin said. ”It’s troubling to see that we’re reopening this whole issue so shortly after the regulations were completed on this front. But well participate again and I’m sure the public will as well. I hope that the new administration will be open to outcomes that are inconsistent with their own statutory obligations and with what the public wants.”

Defenders of Wildlife is one of several environmental groups fighting a state of Alaska filed suit aimed at turning back the regulations.

The state constitution calls for managing fish and game for sustained yield, while the park service mission is to provide for natural diversity — conflicting mandates central to a broader debate over state’s rights.Rod Arno, Executive Director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, referred to guarantees included in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that created many of Alaska’s federal preserves and refuges.

”To make sure that the state of Alaska would remain the authority on management of Fish and Game on federal lands,” Arno said. “And what the Department of Interior did in the last eight years through policy is directly contrary to what the federal legislation says.”

Arno said hunting trapping is common on federal lands in Alaska especially road accessible portions of the 70 million acres set aside in national preserves.

Earlier this year, Congress repealed harvest technique bans in other U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuges in Alaska, using the Congressional Review Act, but the Park Service and Kenai Refuge rules fall outside the action time-frame allowed under that law.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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