The U.S. National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that they would undercut wildlife protections by allowing the Alaska State Board of Game to authorize manipulative and dangerous hunting practices to kill wolves and bears in national preserves in Alaska and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
This move undermines the wildlife diversity and ecological health of federal lands, and would make acts like the unlawful 2018 killing of a black bear and cubs captured in a widely shared video —a mother bear and two ‘shrieking’ newborn cubs were killed in their den by hunters—legal in national preserves.
The further degradation of life
The agencies have not posted the new rules yet, saying that Alaskans can expect to see them within the week. Lengthy press releases suggest that the rules would give Alaska’s Board of Game the green light to okay a range of hunting activities that threaten public safety, public use compatibility, and the health of wolves, bears, and interrelated wildlife species and habitat.
Notably, these press releases included supportive quotes from Alaska’s Governor, the Alaska congressional delegation, and the heads of massive national and international groups representing hunting and trapping interests.
The FWS Kenai-specific rule will likely allow the use of firearms along the heavily used Kenai and Russian rivers, along with the trapping and killing of wolves, coyotes, lynx and other predators in Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, the one small part of the Kenai Refuge currently reserved for wildlife viewing, education, and other uses like boating and hiking.
Public lands are not game parks
The NPS and Kenai rules will likely differ in some ways, but both will allow the Alaska Board of Game to make wildlife management decisions on federal lands.
The Board of Game has tried for years to reduce the populations of wolves and bears across the state, including on national preserves and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, in an effort to increase populations of game animals like caribou and moose, essentially turning these lands into game parks.
The State of Alaska generally manages sport hunting on federal lands, but that management discretion must stay within the bounds of federal mandates. Today’s rules allow the state’s predator control and intensive management to override federal statutes, and erases federal protections for vulnerable wildlife populations like the Kenai brown bears. Trustees will provide details on the rules once the agencies post them, and take whatever actions it must to ensure that neither agency undermines the purposes of our national preserves and refuges to maintain healthy populations of all wildlife including bears and wolves.