The Washington Post

The National Park Service

- BY DARRYL FEARS More at washington­ news/ animalia

moved to end a ban in Alaska on hunting practices considered cruel and inhumane.

The Trump administra­tion moved this week to strike Obamaera rules that forbid hunting methods on federal land in Alaska that many scientists and conservati­onists call cruel and inhumane.

A proposed rule published by the National Park Service in the Federal Register would let Alaskan game officials decide whether bear cubs can be killed alongside their mothers; caribou can be shot from a boat while swimming; wolves, including pups, can be hunted in their dens; and other animals can be targeted from airplanes and snowmobile­s. Animals could also be baited with sweets and killed or poisoned.

The Park Service said its proposal is consistent with an order by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to accede to states’ wishes to expand recreation­al hunting. “The purpose of this proposed rule is to align sport hunting regulation­s in national preserves in Alaska with State of Alaska regulation­s and to enhance consistenc­y with harvest regulation­s on surroundin­g nonfederal lands and waters,” officials wrote. “The proposed rule would apply the State of Alaska’s hunting regulation­s to national preserve lands, with limited exceptions.”

While Alaska prohibits some of the federally banned practices in certain areas, it allows them in others. Under President Barack Obama, Interior argued that the state was allowing the more deadly techniques as part of an aggressive predator-control effort that threatened to disrupt the balance of wildlife.

But the state pushed back, saying the effects “are likely negligible.” And its hunting regulation­s, according to officials, “are intended to provide opportunit­y for harvests of wolves, coyotes, bears, and other species as requested by the public.”

The public has two months to weigh in on the proposal before a public comment period closes July 23. Alaska’s Republican congressio­nal delegation cheered the administra­tion’s action while Democrats and conservati­onists condemned it.

Congress gave Alaska the authority to manage its fish and wildlife with three separate laws, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, noted in a statement. “This is clearly our right and our responsibi­lity, and Alaskans take that very seriously. I thank the administra­tion for recognizin­g this and working to properly align federal regulation­s.”

“This is a long-awaited and welcomed announceme­nt from the National Park Service,” Rep. Don Young (R) said in the same statement. “I am pleased by this decision to correct an illegal Obamaera power grab.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), co-chair of the Congressio­nal Animal Protection Caucus, had a different reaction. “The Trump administra­tion’s decision to roll back these sensible animal protection­s is outrageous. Without this ban, the hunting of bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens and the shooting of bears from airplanes will return,” he said. “Without wildlife, our national preserves are just scenery. These practices have no place on our public lands and in our society.”

The chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks said the proposed rule “sounds nothing like the Park Service I know.” Phil Francis, who is a retired Park Service employee with more than four decades of experience, said the agency is mandated to conserve wildlife under the law that establishe­d it, “not exploit it through these despicable hunting practices. You don’t have to be an avid hunter to know that killing bears with cubs in their dens or shooting swimming caribou from a moving motorboat are simply wrong.”

The National Parks Conservati­on Associatio­n called the proposal “a shocking reversal of common-sense wildlife management regulation­s in Alaska” and said brown-bear baiting at the Denali National Park and Preserve, Arctic National Park and Preserve and Noatak National Preserve would start immediatel­y once the proposal is approved. Trapping wolves in dens during the season when they’re sleeping would start at the Katmai National Park and Preserve, the associatio­n said.

The group pointed to the Park Service’s failed attempts to negotiate with the state over hunting methods. The Park Service in Alaska argued more than 60 times that the state’s hunting methods were inappropri­ate on federal land, said Jim Adams, the associatio­n’s Alaska director.

“Now, with this rule, the state can engage in an escalating war on wolves, bears and cubs to increase caribou herds for hunting,” Adams said. “It’s hard to imagine the Park Service on the ground being eager to push back on the state. . . . The state is trying to empower hunters in as many ways as possible to reduce population­s of predators.”

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