(EnviroNews Alaska) — Washington D.C. — On March 21, 2017, in a 52-47 vote, the Senate passed House Joint Resolution 69 (HJR 69), a Congressional Review Act resolution to rescind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule (Refuge Rule), which has been in effect since September 2016. The Refuge Rule protects carnivores on the 16 federal refuges in Alaska from the state’s predator management program, which environmentalists characterize as barbaric and “scientifically indefensible.” This Rule prohibits and regulates extreme hunting practices including, but not limited to, killing wolves and pups, killing bear cubs or sows with cubs, taking bears with traps and snares and hunting bears from aircraft.
Many conservationists view this move by Congress as a serious threat to carnivore populations and natural diversity within Alaska’s refuges. Congressman Don Young (R-AK) however, who introduced HJR 69, hails the passage as a victory for Alaska’s right to manage its own resources. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV) co-sponsored HJR 69. Having passed the House and Senate, this highly contentious resolution now heads to President Trump’s desk.
HJR 69 is allowed under the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA), which empowers Congress to invalidate federal regulations in an expedited fashion, within 60 legislative days of their taking effect. The issuing agency of the rejected rule cannot issue a substantially similar rule at a later time.
Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders) explained in a press release that the Refuge Rule was adopted to protect refuge carnivores from Alaska’s 1994 predator control law, known as the “Intensive Management Law.” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) makes clear that under this law, if standard hunting harvests fail to control moose, caribou or deer populations to a level that meets objectives for human consumptive use, then “intensive management actions” must be considered. These actions may include “liberalizing hunting and trapping regulations for wolves and bears.” But Defenders characterizes the law as being “designed to dramatically suppress wolves, bears and other native carnivores to artificially inflate game populations.”
Defenders describes the Refuge Rule as a “reasonable, science-based regulation that helps protect these iconic species on public lands and supports balanced, natural ecosystems that benefit all Americans.” In the same release, Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders President and CEO, said when Congress passed HJR 69, it “failed not only bears, wolves and wildlife conservation, but also the American people who support balanced, scientific management of our National Wildlife Refuge System.”
“[HJR 69] undermines science-based wildlife management and the basic premise of public lands as places for wildlife conservation. It overrides fundamental national environmental safeguards in the name of narrow special interests,” said Alli Harvey, Alaska representative with the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign.
In contrast, Matthew N. Shuckerow, Communications Director for Representative Young, told EnviroNews in an email that the Congressman’s work on the issue “reflects a unified effort by the State of Alaska, Alaska Congressional Delegation, numerous local user groups, and countless Alaskans to properly protect Alaska’s longstanding authority – carefully protected in statute since statehood – to manage fish and wildlife upon all lands in the state through a scientific, peer-reviewed process.”
According to The Washington Post, USFWS and the ADFG typically carried out an annual negotiation over hunting and fishing regulations for refuges, but in 2013 the Alaska Board of Game (BOG) “rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rules and instructed the state fish and game agency to write the regulations on their own.”
USFWS states the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule “was developed in response to public interest and concern about predator control and recent liberalization of predator harvest within the State of Alaska.” USFWS criticized the BOG for recently implementing “authorized measures under its general hunting and trapping regulations that potentially increase the take of predators to a degree that disrupts natural processes and wildlife interactions,” listing many of the practices below. The Refuge Rule (AKA “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska”) specifically prohibits:
- Taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs [ AKA “denning”] (exception allowed for resident hunters to take black bear cubs or sows with cubs under customary and traditional use activities at a den site Oct. 15-April 30 in specific game management units in accordance with State law);
- Taking brown bears over bait;
- Taking of bears using traps or snares;
- Taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season (May 1-Aug. 9); and
- Taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred. The take of wolves or wolverines from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred is already prohibited under current refuge regulations.
Environmentalists warn if the Refuge Rule is rescinded, these practices will spread throughout Alaska’s refuges and Clark calls for Trump to “veto this threat to wildlife and our natural heritage.”
“Killing wolves and bears in this cruel, unsportsmanlike fashion is outrageous, especially in national wildlife refuges that belong to all Americans. Repealing these protections also undermines the critical role predators play in healthy ecosystems.” said Brett Hartl, Government Affairs Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Conversely, Shuckerow called it “misleading” to say HJR 69 will remove animal protections and specifically discussed denning, aerial hunting and taking bears with traps and snares. He pointed out that denning for bears is already allowed under a certain subsistence exception, as is explained in the Refuge Rule excerpt above. The Refuge Rule provides sows and cubs with protections from denning outside of the excepted situation.
Shuckerow stated aerial hunting is not allowed under Alaska’s general hunting regulations and that using traps and snares for bears is also generally prohibited.
However, USFWS states before the Refuge Rule took hold, BOG was in fact “authorizing same-day airborne take of bears at registered bait stations” and was also “classifying black bears as both furbearers and big game species (which could allow for trapping and snaring of bears and sale of their hides and skulls).”
Mark Salvo, Vice President of Landscape Conservation for Defenders of Wildlife, told EnviroNews:
[HJR 69] erodes federal authority over public lands and wildlife that belong to all Americans. At a time when imperiled species and wild places face mounting threats, Congress should be asserting federal responsibility for federal resources, not selling out our natural heritage to states and special interests. The public strongly opposed this measure, just as they will future congressional attacks that undermine protections for our air, land, water and wildlife, including attempts to open our crown jewel, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to destructive oil drilling.
Shuckerow said the Refuge Rule is “in violation of the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and pointed out that the State of Alaska filed suit against the federal government to overturn this rule in January 2017.
Defenders of Wildlife states several laws, including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, ensure the USFWS can manage “wildlife in its natural diversity on national wildlife refuges across the state.”
“There’s a natural tension between what the state wants to do, and what the federal law compels the Fish and Wildlife Service to do,” said former USFWS director Dan Ashe in the Washington Post.
BREAKING: 4/21/17: CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY SUES TRUMP OVER HJR 69
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