WASHINGTON (CN) — With support from Alaska officials, President Donald Trump this week repealed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations on wildlife management in National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to overturn federal agency regulations within 60 legislative session days of publication. Alaska Republican Don Young’s House Joint Resolution 69 was approved by the U.S. House on Feb. 16 and by the Senate on March 21. It gives the state a workaround on some of the regulations that Alaska challenged in January. In brief, Alaska officials want to keep control over fish and game rules even on federal lands in the state.
Alaska’s Jan. 13 federal complaint challenges federal rules prohibiting certain methods of bait trapping, hunting from boats and with artificial light. Fish and Wildlife and co-defendant National Park Service in 2014 and 2015 prohibited taking wolves and coyotes, including pups, during their denning season in national parks and preserves; taking black bears with artificial light at den sites; taking brown or black bears with bait; using dogs in black bear hunts, and shooting swimming caribou or caribou emerging from the water on the shore while the hunter is in a moving boat.
State and federal agencies operating in Alaska clash frequently over land and wildlife, energy and the environment.
Alaska agencies favor targeted predator control, to boost consistent availability of game species – moose, caribou and Dall sheep– for subsistence and to attract sport hunters whose travel and license fees are vital to Alaska’s economy.
Federal agencies tend to favor letting nature take its course even if that means bears, wolves and coyotes take more game some years and less in others.
In August 2016, Fish and Wildlife updated its regulations to prohibit using bait to kill bear cubs or sows with cubs or brown bears in the 80 million acres of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, using snares or traps on bears, killing wolves or coyote from May through Aug. 9 and taking bears from an aircraft the same day air travel has occurred.
These are the regulations rolled back by HR 69. Alaska’s challenge to the previous regulations will be fought out in court, because the National Park Service’s rules for its 20 million acres in Alaska took effect before the time limit allowed in the Congressional Review Act.
“The Fish and Wildlife portion of the state’s lawsuit will be dropped but the National Park Service portion will continue,” state spokeswoman Katie Marquette said in an email.
Fish and Wildlife says that federal law gives it authority to manage wildlife to maintain “natural and biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health,” and limit predators to bolster caribou and other animals’ populations.
Young wants Alaska to do it.
“Upholding the rule of law and protecting Alaska’s authority to manage fish and game throughout our state is critically important to me,” he said in a statement after the signing. “This resolution was about the authority to manage fish and game in Alaska – as outlined in the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.”
Young dismissed opponents’ arguments that retracting the Fish and Wildlife regulations was unsporting and cruel, particularly killing bears and wolves with cubs in dens and from airplanes.
“That’s nonsense,” Young told the Alaska Dispatch News.
“If there's a need for predator control that's against the cloven hoof animal, the caribou and the moose, which has no defense against predators, then we're going to use methods which are most efficient," he said. But shooting wolves from planes is actually "very hard to do," Young said.
“Passage of this resolution reaffirms our state sovereignty, and the state’s authority to manage fish and wildlife statewide, including on federal public lands,” Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement Tuesday. “Alaskans depend on wildlife for food. Reversal of these regulations will allow residents to continue their hunting and gathering traditions.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton added: “The state will continue to manage fish and wildlife in a sustainable manner that supports a variety of uses,” and “we look forward to working with our federal partners to maintain a cooperative relationship going forward.”
Greg Siekaniec, Alaska regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email to Courthouse News: “I agree with the spokesman from the state that recognized the recent congressional action doesn't change the laws, authorities, and existing regulations that are already in effect on National Wildlife Refuges. We will continue to manage Refuge lands per the purposes assigned in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and I also look forward to working closely with the state Department of Fish and Game to address the numerous conservation issues we face in managing the lands and waters of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.”