Former NPS employees 'appalled' by plan easing hunting rules for killing Alaskan bear cubs and wolf pups

Former NPS employees 'appalled' by plan easing hunting rules for killing Alaskan bear cubs and wolf pups
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A group of former National Park Service (NPS) employees is asking the Interior Department to completely abandon a new policy allowing hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.

The rule, finalized earlier this month, ends a five-year ban on baiting hibernating bears from their dens, shining a flashlight into wolf dens to cause them to scurry, targeting animals from airplanes or snowmobiles, and shooting swimming caribou from boats.

Former NPS managers who worked in the state said the new rule ignores scientific information on Alaska’s wildlife and raises significant legal and policy concerns.  

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“We are utterly appalled that NPS has adopted this final rule, which is so contrary to its mission,” the employees, now affiliated with the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, wrote in a letter to Interior.

NPS waived the 2015 regulations imposed under the Obama administration that prohibited the controversial hunting tactics, arguing the state, not the federal government, retained the authority to regulate hunting practices there. 

“The amended rule will support the Department's interest in advancing wildlife conservation goals and objectives, and in ensuring the state of Alaska’s proper management of hunting and trapping in our national preserves, as specified in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act,” NPS Deputy Director David Vela said in a release announcing the rule.

“It will also more closely align hunting and trapping regulations with those established by the state of Alaska by providing more consistency with harvest regulations between federal and surrounding non-federal lands and waters.”

The policy change is set to begin in early July.

But critics have argued that allowing the hunting tactic will reduce populations of wolves and bears that prey on the caribou and moose favored by game hunters.

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“Alaska is the last place in the United States, if not the world, where large intact ecosystems have been designated for protection, so that they function naturally with little to no direct influence from man,” the letter from the former employees states.

The former NPS employees say the agency is abdicating its responsibility under the law to manage hunting practices on federal lands in order to promote conservation.

The rule, they argue, not only violates laws requiring vigorous environmental review of the impacts of the decision, but NPS regulations that “specifically promotes conservation of natural processes.”

“Under NPS management policies wildlife may only be managed for healthy populations, not to ‘achieve human consumptive use goals,’ ” they said.

The policies are also not meant to increase animals that can be harvested by hunters, according to the former employees.