Park Service proposes changes to Alaska hunting regulations

Emily Ronis

A proposed rule by the National Park Service could remove prohibitions on certain hunting practices on national preserves in Alaska, including those for brown bears. ©Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The National Park Service has proposed a rule that would change hunting and trapping regulations for national preserves in Alaska.

The rule would reverse NPS regulations approved in 2015 that prohibit certain hunting and trapping practices otherwise allowed by state regulations, including baiting and using artificial light at bear dens.

In the 2015 rule, NPS found certain harvest practices permitted by the state would reduce predators, increase ungulates and create increased hunting opportunities. “To the extent such practices are intended or reasonably likely to manipulate wildlife populations for harvest purposes or alter natural wildlife behaviors, they are not consistent with NPS management policies,” explained the agency in the 2015 final rule. Citing its mandates to maintain ecological balance and integrity, NPS prohibited the practices on agency-managed lands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a similar rule in 2016 that prohibited non-subsistence predator control measures on national wildlife refuges in Alaska.

Now NPS is proposing to reverse these prohibitions to “establish better consistency with the state,” according to a statement from its Alaska Regional Office. The proposed rule highlights that “states have primary jurisdiction to manage wildlife throughout their state.”

NPS points to two secretarial orders as motivation for the proposed changes. Secretarial Order 3347, signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year, directs the Interior Department to increase access to hunting and fishing opportunities and improve cooperation and communication with state wildlife managers. The agency also points to Secretarial Order 3356, signed in 2017, that in part directs NPS to “begin the necessary process to modify regulations in order to advance shared wildlife conservation goals/objectives that align predator management programs, seasons and methods of take permitted on all Department-managed lands and waters with corresponding programs, seasons and methods established by state wildlife management agencies.”

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, released a statement in support of the proposed rule.

“I join countless Alaskans in welcoming this announcement, which begins the necessary process of reversing an unlawful regulatory action by the National Park Service and restoring the unique management relationship between Alaska and the federal government,” said Sullivan.

The National Parks Conservation Association called the proposed rule a “shocking reversal of commonsense wildlife management regulations in Alaska,” in a statement opposing the move.

Debate over Alaska’s predator control methods and the larger issue of state and federal management authority has been a source of conflict in wildlife management policy. In January 2017, the state of Alaska sued the Interior Department challenging the federal rules implemented by NPS and USFWS to restrict predator control methods. The state’s attorney general said the suit was not over predator control methods, but rather the federal government imposing on the state’s right to manage its wildlife.

In 2017, President Trump signed H.R. 69 into law, which overturned the 2016 USFWS rule that prohibited non-subsistence taking of wildlife on national wildlife refuges.

The public comment period on the proposed rule is open for 60 days.

Emily Ronis is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Emily's articles.

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