(CN) – An environmentalist group sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Thursday, saying Congress illegally expanded its power by suspending an Interior Department rule banning the hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska wildlife refuges.
Congress earlier this year passed House Joint Resolution 69, which purports to nullify the Refuges Rule that protects wolves, bears and other wildlife in national wildlife refuges in Alaska from “cruel and ecologically harmful predator control practices, such as killing wolves and their pups in dens and gunning down grizzly bears at bait stations,” plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity says in its lawsuit, filed in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska.
The group seeks to revoke Congress’s action and reinstate the refuge rule. It says that by suspending the refuges rule, Congress expanded its own power at the expense of another branch of government. To realign the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, the group asks the court to reinstate the Refuges Rule, “which Congress nullified through an unconstitutional application” of congressional rulemaking authority.
According to the group, state wildlife managers in Alaska have been aggressively expanding hunting of predator populations of wolves and bears to reduce their populations below natural levels. The liberalization of hunting practices has been driven by Alaska’s intensive management law implemented by Alaska’s Board of Game, the lawsuit says. That law, passed in 1994, requires the Alaska Board of Game to use intensive management to maintain high populations of ungulate species like moose, deer and caribou for the benefit of hunters.
But the environmentalist group says this is an outdated method of game management that ignores habitat management and disregards the ecological importance of predators on wildlife refuges in Alaska.
Through the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Congress delegated to rulemaking authority for managing the National Wildlife Refuge System to the Interior Department, and directed that Alaska refuges be managed to conserve fish and wildlife populations.
In February, Congress suspended the Refuges Rule on a 225 to 193 House vote with one hour of general debate, according to the lawsuit. On March 21, the resolution passed the Senate on party lines, 52-47. President Trump signed resolution on April 3.
The resolution also bars the department from making future rules that are substantially similar, the lawsuit says, creating “a large and unconstitutional shadow effect, undermining Interior’s rulemaking authority in violation of the separation of powers.”
“This constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution,” the group says in the lawsuit.
An Interior spokeswoman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by Michael Baylous of Lane Powell in Anchorage, Alaska.