Environmental groups challenge rule change on controversial hunting practices in National Preserves

A wolf looks at a camera. It is lying in some dirt and you can only see it's head
A wolf rests in front of its den in the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge in Western Alaska (USFWS Photo)

Over a dozen environmental groups are suing the US Interior Department and National Park Service for allowing some controversial state-sanctioned hunting practices on some Alaska National Preserve lands, including around Denali, Gates of the Arctic and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks.  

An NPS rule allowing the hunts was finalized earlier this year. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientist and Wilderness Watch Alaska Chapter representative Fran Mauer of Fairbanks helped compile biological information for the 1980 Alaska National Interest land Conservation Act (ANILCA), which expanded federal public lands in Alaska.

Mauer says ANILCA included an unprecedented allowance for sport hunting on some preserve lands, “but within the the requirements of the purposes for which the unit was established.”

Mauer says that’s to manage for natural diversity, but the policy is subject to politics.   

“[It] depends on who’s in the White House with regards to what the federal policy is. And now, during the Trump administration, the Park Service and the Department of Interior have turned those regulations on their head and they’ve finalized regulations that would allow bating of grizzly bears and hunting wolves during the denning season,” he said.

The lawsuit filed by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of 13 environmental groups including Wilderness Watch, Denali Citizens Council, and Northern Alaska Environmental Center, asks a federal judge to examine ANILCA and other park laws, and determine how they should be interpreted.  

National Park Service Alaska spokesperson Pete Christian says the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but a Department of the Interior statement says “The final rule affirms the state of Alaska’s role in wildlife management on Alaska national preserves, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and Department of the Interior policies guiding the federal-state relationship in the management of fish and wildlife.”   

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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