Public comment period extended for proposed change to National Park Service bear baiting regulation

The National Park Service could once again allow controversial techniques like bear baiting on certain public lands. They announced Wednesday that they’re extending the public comment period partly because of high public interest in the proposed change.

The Park Service outlawed certain sport hunting and trapping techniques on National Preserve lands like using artificial light to trap bears at their den sites, taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season and hunting swimming caribou in 2015. The changes contradicted state of Alaska regulations that allow the practices. Park Service spokesperson Pete Christian says the original regulation passed because the hunting practices conflicted with Park Service values.

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“Park purpose and values require the park service to manage its national interest lands for ecosystems and changing predator-prey balances isn’t what the park service mandate is for,” Christian said.

Opponents of the practices argue they’re unnecessarily cruel and jeopardize public safety. Now the Park Service is considering overturning its 2015 rule. That’s in response to two statements by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke last year that encouraged the Park Service to align state and federal hunting regulations.

“Since then we’ve had a change administrations, and we have a new secretary of interior who’s priorities are to increase hunting and enhance hunting and recreational opportunities on public lands,” Christian said.

The agency has received over 70,000 public comments on the proposed change, some of them duplicates. Christian said generally the comments are in favor of keeping the 2015 rule in place and prohibiting the controversial practices on public lands.

“What we’ll do is we’ll take all the comments as they come in and evaluate it and substantive comments will be considered in the final rule,” Christian said.

The public comment period has been extended until September 6 to allow the Park Service time to complete an environmental assessment and ensure that the general public and state and local groups have time to respond. Alaska’s national parks wouldn’t be affected by the proposed change.

Erin McKinstry is Alaska Public Media's 2018 summer intern. She has an M.A. from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and a B.A. from Knox College. She's reported stories for The Trace, The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Harvest Public Media, the IRE Radio Podcast, KBIA and The Columbia Missourian.

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