A griz­zly be­trayal

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

In its zeal to re­peal, the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­cently voted to over­turn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice rule for­bid­ding the bait­ing, trap­ping and “den­ning” of bears and wolves in Alaska’s na­tional wildlife refuges.

The Se­nate is poised to con­sider the res­o­lu­tion as soon as next week.

Dis­tilled to its essence, Alaska’s politi­cians want to re­duce bear and wolf pop­u­la­tions so hunters will have more moose and cari­bou to kill. Alaska’s full con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion — Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sul­li­van (all Repub­li­cans) — is be­hind the push.

Ar­gu­ing for pas­sage of House Joint Res­o­lu­tion 69, Young told of en­ter­ing wolf dens and killing moth­ers and pups back when he worked as a bounty hunter of preda­tors. Pre­sum­ably, this was in­tended to im­press his fel­low leg­is­la­tors, as are his of­fice walls, which are be­decked with an­i­mal tro­phies. One eye-catch­ing ex­hibit con­sists of a gar­gan­tuan griz­zly-bear hide tacked to a wall, the beast’s hind legs fram­ing a piece of the Alaskan pipe­line. Witty. This isn’t an anti-hunt­ing col­umn, I should say up­front. I’m on record sup­port­ing hu­mane hunt­ing for food (but not for tro­phies), and I rec­og­nize that with­out hunters, many of whom are ar­dent con­ser­va­tion­ists, many wet­lands would have been drained for com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

This is a plea for com­mon sense, com­pas­sion and con­ser­va­tion. What are wildlife refuges, after all, if not refuges for wildlife?

The un­der­ly­ing so-called prin­ci­ple be­hind the res­o­lu­tion is the GOP’s prom­ise to re­duce job-killing reg­u­la­tions. While zeal­ous reg­u­la­tion has led to some cor­po­rate out­sourc­ing — and re­spon­si­ble tweaks can be made here and there — not one job is pro­tected nor one dime saved by over­turn­ing the wildlife agency’s rule.

One could even ar­gue that Young’s move is anti-busi­ness. Tourism is sec­ond only to oil as Alaska’s great­est re­source and in­dus­try. Peo­ple go to Alaska to hunt but also to visit the parks and see the an­i­mals. An­i­mal watch­ing, in fact, brings Alaska more tourism dol­lars than hunt­ing does, ac­cord­ing to Alaska’s Depart­ment of Fish and Game.

The sheer sav­agery of what would be­come law­ful if the Se­nate falls prey to its com­pan­ion res­o­lu­tion (Se­nate Joint Res­o­lu­tion 18) should give pause to any­one with a heart­beat.

Hunters could scout grizzlies from the air and then be de­posited on the ground to kill them. (Aerial shoot­ing is still for­bid­den.) They could hunt wolves dur­ing den­ning sea­son, ei­ther shoot­ing a mother wolf, thus doom­ing her ba­bies, or en­ter­ing the den and killing all, fre­quently with gas. Hunters could also bait, trap or snare, caus­ing an ag­o­niz­ing death usu­ally ex­ac­er­bated by freez­ing tem­per­a­tures. The traps are steel-jawed. A snare is a wire that wraps around an an­i­mal’s neck, then tight­ens as it tries to pull away.

Th­ese en­hanced meth­ods would tar­get an­i­mals at their most vul­ner­a­ble, in other words, and cause max­i­mum suf­fer­ing for no ten­able rea­son. More­over, ar­ti­fi­cially re­duc­ing the num­ber of preda­tors win­nows down di­ver­sity es­sen­tial to a healthy ecosys­tem, which can lead to un­in­tended and dis­as­trous con­se­quences.

One po­ten­tially lethal con­se­quence for hu­mans is that bait­ing bears with food such as dough­nuts ha­bit­u­ates them to the hu­man scent, thus in­creas­ing the risk of at­tacks on peo­ple. Re­mem­ber “Don’t feed the bears”?

Of hunters, one must ask: Where is the sports­man­ship in all of this?

To Young and his like-minded col­leagues, such a query is be­side the point. Ul­ti­mately, they say, this is a states’ rights is­sue. There it is, the love Repub­li­cans can’t quit. In fact, no law grants state land man­agers au­thor­ity to over­rule fed­eral land man­agers’ de­ci­sions re­lated to fed­eral land — for good rea­son.

With­out the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, we might have had min­ing in the Grand Canyon, noted Wayne Pa­celle, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States (where my son works), in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “With­out fed­eral pro­tec­tions, what’s to stop Wy­oming from au­tho­riz­ing hunt­ing grizzlies in Yel­low­stone?

“States’ rights sim­ply don’t ap­ply when you have a fed­eral cat­e­gory of lands au­tho­rized by Congress,” he said. “This is re­ally our Serengeti.”

As a hu­mane mat­ter, there’s no de­fend­ing H.J. Res. 69. As a reg­u­la­tory is­sue, it de­fies logic. As an eco­nomic con­cern, pro­tect­ing wildlife from cruel hunt­ing prac­tices makes sense.

Sen­a­tors should vote to leave the pro­tec­tive rule in place — not only to pro­tect our wildlife from politi­cians’ preda­tory prac­tices but also to re­as­sure Amer­i­cans that the cham­ber still has a con­science.

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