National Park Service rule change ends bans on controversial bear and wolf hunts

Black bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The National Park Service is rescinding a ban within Alaska’s national preserves on some controversial state-sanctioned predator harvests of bears and wolves.

NPS Alaska spokesperson Pete Christian says although practices like killing bears and wolves in dens run counter to the Park Service’s mission, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created or expanded many of Alaska’s national preserves, grants the state management authority.     

“It supercedes, to some extent, the NPS Organic Act and some of our regular management policies, and so the parks up here were designed to have preserve units in them which allow for hunting and trapping as per state law,” Christian said.

The Park Service decision to defer to the state is the latest move in a legal conflict that dates back to when the previous federal administration initially banned certain state-permitted predator harvests on Alaska’s preserve lands. 

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“Which, to be honest was offensive in my view,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, who pushed for the rule change.

Sullivan highlights a diverse group of stakeholders who back the Park Service decision to abide by state regulations.

It’s everybody from the state to hunting groups to tribes to subsistence hunters,” he said.

Pat Lavin with the Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage, which opposes the rule change, acknowledged that the number of hunters is probably small, but said allowing the controversial practices, like killing bear cubs and wolf pups in dens, is extreme and inconsistent with the purpose of national preserves.

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“It’s just a clash of management objectives that aren’t compatible and that’s where federal agencies have long drawn the line, and this Department of Interior is trying to erase that line,” he said.

Lavin would not speculate on the possibility of a suit be filed to challenge the Park Service decision. The agency’s Christian notes that the Park Service retains authority to block state sanctioned harvests in some circumstances.

“If there was a particular concern over animal species or public safety issues related to this particular new ruling, the Park Service would have the ability to close those,” he said.

Christian says the NPS does not expect population-level effects on the predator species, noting that the state has only authorized the predator hunts in limited areas, where the practices have been customary and traditional.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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