Bans on killing wolves and bears are un­der review

Move aims to al­ter preda­tor con­trol lim­its in Alaska’s fed­eral refuges

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAR­RYL FEARS dar­ryl.fears@wash­ More at wash­ing­ton­ news/an­i­malia

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has or­dered a review of fed­eral rules that pre­vent hunters from killing bears and wolves us­ing tech­niques many peo­ple con­sider ex­treme: bait­ing the an­i­mals with greasy dough­nuts, am­bush­ing moth­ers with pups in dens, and shoot­ing them from boats while the bears are swim­ming.

An In­te­rior De­part­ment of­fi­cial sent memos to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice last week re­quest­ing that they re­assess rules on “var­i­ous pro­hi­bi­tions that di­rectly con­tra­dict State of Alaska au­tho­riza­tions and wildlife man­age­ment de­ci­sions.” Alaska kills preda­tors to in­crease moose and cari­bou pop­u­la­tions for the ben­e­fit of hunters. Bears, wolves and coy­otes prey on those an­i­mals for food.

“I an­tic­i­pate that you will fo­cus this re­con­sid­er­a­tion on cer­tain as­pects of the rule that I be­lieve are par­tic­u­larly wor­thy of ad­di­tional review,” act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for fish, wildlife and parks Aure­lia Skip­with wrote in the memos. Skip­with told the act­ing di­rec­tors of both agen­cies to work with Alaska res­i­dents to make a new fi­nal rule for the na­tional parks there and for the Ke­nai Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

The ac­tion fol­lows a March vote along party lines in Congress to re­scind an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion or­der late last year that out­lawed the pri­or­i­tiz­ing of prey over preda­tors at 16 fed­eral wildlife refuges in Alaska. Un­der the 1994 Con­gres­sional Review Act, Congress has 60 days to over­turn a pres­i­den­tial or­der. But rules pro­hibit­ing wildlife man­age­ment that specif­i­cally tar­get preda­tors had been adopted by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice in Alaska and the Ke­nai refuge years ago.

For decades, the Alaska De­part­ment of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ne­go­ti­ated an­nu­ally on hunt­ing and fish­ing reg­u­la­tions on the tens of mil­lions of acres that com­prise na­tional wildlife refuges and na­tional parks in the state. But in 2013, the Alaska Board of Game, which is made up of po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, re­jected those pro­posed rules and told the state agency to write its own.

In 2015, na­tional park of­fi­cials re­sponded by adopt­ing the cur­rent rules. Those for­bid killing bear cubs with their moth­ers and wolf pups and moth­ers in the sea­son when they den. They also pro­hibit us­ing dogs to hunt big game and killing preda­tors for the sole pur­pose of in­creas­ing the num­ber of an­i­mals for hunt­ing.

The de­part­ment’s review is about “be­ing a good neigh­bor and restor­ing trust,” In­te­rior spokes­woman Heather Swift said Fri­day. She cau­tioned that “in­sin­u­at­ing any pre­de­ter­mined re­sults is premature. The de­part­ment is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the peo­ple of Alaska on how to best man­age their wildlife and habi­tat.”

In­te­rior is press­ing ahead de­spite a re­cent study by sci­en­tists for the state game de­part­ment show­ing that preda­tor con­trol has lit­tle ef­fect on the herds on which they prey. “We de­tected no con­vinc­ing sup­port for de­creased wolf pre­da­tion dur­ing con­trol,” the study said. “We also de­tected no sup­port for in­creased cari­bou sur­vival dur­ing non­lethal or lethal wolf con­trol.”

The re­search on the Fortymile cari­bou herd in Alaska showed that herd’s growth from 6,000 to 52,000 be­tween 1973 and 2014 couldn’t be at­trib­uted to culling preda­tors. In fact, the abun­dance of cari­bou ap­peared to harm the herd be­cause the an­i­mals over­grazed, leav­ing them too lit­tle to eat.

Conservationists are crit­i­ciz­ing In­te­rior’s new di­rec­tive. Theresa Pierno, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Parks Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, called it shame­ful.

“The Na­tional Park Ser­vice must have the au­thor­ity to pre­vent po­ten­tially in­dis­crim­i­nate killing of bears and their cubs on na­tional park lands,” she said. The or­der “ig­nores in­di­vid­u­als who spoke up in sup­port of bears and wolves . . . and more than 70,000 Amer­i­cans who said no to bait­ing bears with grease-soaked dough­nuts in De­nali.”

The Alaska De­part­ment of Fish and Game did not re­spond Thurs­day to a re­quest for com­ment. Alaska of­fi­cials and sports­men who sued In­te­rior this year con­tend that the ex­ist­ing fed­eral rules in­fringe on the fron­tier culture of their state, where many res­i­dents hunt to put food on their plates.

Af­ter Congress voted to re­scind the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s or­der, Sen. Dan Sul­li­van (R-Alaska) said in a state­ment that “many hunt for sur­vival, both per­sonal and cul­tural. Alaskans have been able to main­tain these strong and life-sus­tain­ing traditions through a rig­or­ous sci­en­tific process that al­lows for pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion and en­sures we man­age our fish and game for sus­tain­abil­ity, as re­quired by the Alaska Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) echoed that sen­ti­ment, say­ing man­ag­ing wildlife “is some­thing in Alaska that we take very, very se­ri­ously.”

But Fran Mauer, a re­tired wildlife bi­ol­o­gist who worked at the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, said Alaska’s meth­ods lack bal­ance.

“I think most rea­son­able Amer­i­cans can look at it and say this is ex­ces­sive,” he said. “The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has bent over back­ward to work with the state and found that it had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­empt their rules. Now Trump wants the Parks Ser­vice to review those reg­u­la­tions. The Amer­i­can pub­lic de­serves to know what’s go­ing on in Alaska with our na­tional con­ser­va­tion ar­eas.”


A tourist pho­to­graphs a brown bear at Kat­mai Na­tional Park and Pre­serve in Alaska in 2013.

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