Proposed Trump administration rule would roll back protections on Alaskan bear cubs, coyote pups

Proposed Trump administration rule would roll back protections on Alaskan bear cubs, coyote pups
© Photo by Brad Young, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Wildlife protections on black bears, coyote pups and other Alaskan animals are likely to be stripped away under a new National Park Service (NPS) rule formally proposed Monday.

The rule, to be published in the Federal Register Tuesday, aims to reverse Obama-era protections from 2015 that prohibited certain hunting practices that otherwise were allowed by Alaska.

The practices the Obama-era rule prohibited included the killing of all black bears by dogs; the hunting of caribou from powered motorboats; hunting of wolves or coyotes and their pups during denning season months; and using "bait" to attract and shoot brown bears.

Under the new NPS rule, states would be allowed to determine their own protections and could remove the previous federal protections for wildlife. 

The decision to rollback the protections of the various animals was determined in conjunction with a series of Interior Department secretarial orders from 2017 that directed the agency to expand access for recreational hunting and fishing on public lands.

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"The purpose of this proposed rule is to align sport hunting regulations in national preserves in Alaska with State of Alaska regulations and to enhance consistency with harvest regulations on surrounding non-federal lands and waters in furtherance of [two] Secretarial Orders," reads the text of the rule proposal.

The NPS said the rule is intended to conserve wildlife while improving hunting.

“The conservation of wildlife and habitat for future generations is a goal we share with Alaska,” said NPS Regional Director Bert Frost. “This proposed rule will reconsider NPS efforts in Alaska for improved alignment of hunting regulations on national preserves with state of Alaska regulations, and to enhance consistency with harvest regulations on surrounding non-federal lands and waters.”

Frost added that the rule would only be applied to hunting on Alaska national preserves, not national parks in the state.

In February, the Alaska Professional Hunters Association and the Sportsman Alliance Foundation sued the Interior Department in part over the NPS restrictions on wildlife management.

"Game management belongs to the boots-on-the-ground state biologists who understand the traditions, goals, game animals and ecosystems better than anyone," Evan Heusinkveld, the sportsman group's CEO, said in a statement at the time.

Environmentalists say the rule change is not about animal management but about boosting profits.

"Allowing the killing of bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens is barbaric and inhumane," Jamie Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

"The proposed regulations cast aside the very purpose of national parks to protect wildlife and wild places," she said. "The National Park Service should not accept Alaska’s extreme predator control program as a suitable method of managing wildlife and their habitat.”

Under the Trump Administration, the Interior Department has routinely emphasized its interest in weakening various regulations on hunting on national park land.

Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump EPA to roll out plan for fighting lead exposure | Top Interior lawyer once said women shouldn't be NFL referees | California moving toward electric bus fleet by 2040 Top lawyer at Interior once said women shouldn’t be NFL referees because they PMS Alaska oil and gas lease sale nets .5 million MORE has met a number of times with representatives of the National Rifle Association as well as the big game hunting lobby, the Safari Club.

Last fall, on the heels of news that hunting was dropping within the U.S., Zinke announced October would be National Hunting and Fishing Month and installed a "Big Buck hunter" shooting game in the lobby of Interior Department Headquarters.

Since then the administration has come under fire for changing protections to other groups of animals, including a Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow elephant trophy imports back into the U.S. on a "case by case" basis — a reversal of an Obama-era ban on imports of the animal.