Ninth Circuit Won’t Revive Fight Against Hunting in Alaska Refuges

(CN) – The Ninth Circuit dismissed an attempt by a wildlife conservation group to attack a statute the Trump administration has used to undo several Obama-era environmental regulations – in this case, involving hunting in wildlife refuges in Alaska.

The three-judge panel found that the Center for Biological Diversity failed to make a valid argument that Congress violated the constitutional balance of powers when it passed a 2017 joint resolution allowing certain hunting techniques to be reinstated throughout Alaska’s expansive wildlife refuge system.

“Because Congress properly enacted the joint resolution, and therefore validly amended Interior’s authority to administer national wildlife refuges in Alaska, Congress did not prevent the president from exercising his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Segal Ikuta on behalf of the panel. “Indeed, the president now has the constitutional obligation to execute the joint resolution.”

A Kodiak bear leads two cubs out of cover into Dog Salmon Creek. (Photo by Menke Dave/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Courthouse News Service)

The center claimed in a suit filed in 2017 that Congress’s new law infringed the rights of the executive branch in general and the U.S. Department of Interior in particular to dictate policy for the federally managed wildlife refuges in question.

The conservation group expressed disappointment at the ruling but vowed to continue to fight the Trump administration’s rollback of predator protections in Alaska.

“This disappointing ruling won’t stop our fight to protect Alaska’s iconic wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the center. “Wolves and bears play important roles in healthy ecosystems. We remain hopeful that individual refuge managers will protect their wildlife and oppose the harmful hunting methods authorized by Trump and congressional Republicans.”

Congress passed Joint Resolution 69 in 2017 that nullified the Refuges Rules, which purported to protect bears, wolves and other wildlife from unethical hunting practices on wildlife refuges.

Specifically, the Refuges Rules prevented hunters from killing wolves in their dens or using bait to kill grizzly bears. The federal rule passed during the Barack Obama administration ran at odds with state management practices that seek to allow the control of predator populations. After the election of Donald Trump, the GOP-dominated Congress passed the law to rescind the Obama-era protections, prompting the lawsuit.

A federal judge dismissed the suit and the center appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the dismissal in Monday’s order.

The center maintains the predator control protocols favored by the state of Alaska and the Trump administration reduce the population of wolves, bears and other predators to unnatural levels.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision has broad ramifications as the center attempted to attack the Congressional Review Act, which gives the legislative bodies the ability to expeditiously review a regulation passed by a federal agency and repeal said regulation via joint resolution.

The center claimed the Congressional Review Act violates the balance of powers by causing the legislative branch to overstep its powers and infringe upon the proper purview of the executive branch.

The panel disagreed.

“Congress’s efforts to exercise oversight of federal administrative agencies by means of the CRA are consistent with the ‘structure of this government, and the distribution of this mass of power among its constituent parts,’” Ikuta wrote, quoting James Madison in The Federalist.

Ikuta is a George W. Bush appointee. She was joined in the opinion by U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Tallman, a Bill Clinton appointee, and fellow Bush appointee N. Randy Smith.

The Alaska National Wildlife Refuges system features 16 separate refuges encompassing approximately 76 million acres of land, much of which is an untamed wilderness. The Arctic Refuge alone accounts for 19.6 million acres and is one of the last truly wild places on planet Earth.

“The refuges are why we have such amazing wildlife in Alaska,” Adkins said. “It’s why it’s such a national treasure.”

Grizzly bears and wolves in particular have been largely chased out of the historic range in the lower 48 states, but still thrive in much of Alaska. Alaska is home to much of the 55,000 grizzly bears that roam in North America. By contrast, only about 1,500 live south of the Canadian border, with 800 of those living in Montana.

Carnivores such as bears and wolves are important to an ecosystem because they keep prey herds such as moose, elk and deer genetically fit by weeding out the weak, old and diseased members.

“There are whole ecosystem ripple effects because of top carnivores,” Adkins said.

The center will continue to pursue hunting restrictions on national wildlife refuges on a refuge by refuge basis, hoping to pressure individual refuge managers into adopting the Obama-era prohibitions on predator controls.

The Congressional Review Act, passed during the Clinton administration, was used sparingly until Trump ascended to the White House. The Trump administration has used the act to undo several regulations, many implemented during Obama’s stint in the Oval Office.

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