Wolves and Bears at Risk in Alaska

Video: Park animals in danger

Alaska’s national parks and preserves attract visitors from around the world for opportunities including seeing wildlife such as bears and wolves.  However, since 2003, the state of Alaska has dramatically increased its aggressive stance on predators, targeting wolf and bear populations in order to reduce predation on young moose and caribou.  The goal is to upwardly manipulate moose and caribou populations to allegedly increase hunter success.  To facilitate killing predators, the Alaska state legislature has passed a series of laws establishing the harvest of ungulates as the primary purpose of its wildlife management program.  These laws are referred to as “Intensive Management” and are applied to sport hunting on all state and federal lands in Alaska.  Sport hunting is allowed on the 19 million acres of Alaska’s national preserve lands established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

The National Park Service (NPS), on the other hand, is directed by Congress to protect natural and healthy populations of wildlife.  Manipulation of wildlife populations to benefit other species (such as those being hunted) is specifically prohibited in the NPS Management Policies, which states:

“The Service does not engage in activities to reduce the numbers of native species for the purpose of increasing the numbers of harvested species (i.e., predator control), nor does the Service permit others to do so on lands managed by the National Park Service.”

NPCA’s Alaska Regional Director Jim Stratton recently explained this conflict and talked about what can be done on a local public affairs television show.

NPCA believes that Alaska’s principal wildlife management strategies conflict with the purposes for which units of the National Park System in Alaska were established. The state’s Intensive Management statutes were passed in the early ‘90s, but lay dormant until Governor Frank Murkowski was elected in 2002 and the composition of the Alaska Board of Game shifted to all hunters that support predator control. It is the Alaska Board of Game that sets the state’s sport hunting regulations.

The Board of Game uses numerous regulatory strategies aimed at killing wolves and bears, such as reduction or elimination of fees and tags, longer seasons, higher bag limits, and liberalized access. More recently, the Board began implementing a series of hunting methods to increase hunting success, such as: baiting (grease and donuts to chum in bears); snaring (using bait to snare bears, which are then shot);allowing the harvest of cubs and sows with cubs, using artificial light to kill bears in their winter dens (called spotlighting); defining black bears as furbearers, which allows them to be trapped; and the sale of bear meat as an economic incentive to harvest more bears. These Board of Game actions affect all lands in Alaska where sport hunting is allowed, not just national preserves. But since the Park Service has such specific language disallowing the manipulation of wildlife populations, both NPCA and the Park Service have actively tried to get Park Service lands exempted from many of these new rules – mostly to no avail.

The most recent attempt to exempt National Park Service lands from several objectionable hunting methods was January 13, 2012, when NPCA presented testimony to the Alaska Board of Game. Testimony proposed making lands managed by the National Park Service exempt from baiting, snaring, spotlighting, shooting cubs and sows with cubs, and taking wolves when they are raising pups. The National Park Service generally supported all five proposals. The Board of Game voted down all five proposals.

With the state of Alaska refusing to address this conflict in management purposes, the National Park Service has announced its desire to promulgate a regulation/set of regulations to ban in all NPS managed lands in Alaska various hunting methods that conflict with NPS policy by giving an unfair advantage to the hunter or are just downright barbaric. While we don’t yet know what will be in that regulation package, we will be vigorously advocating that all these methods be banned on Park Service lands. We anticipate this regulation process starting in early 2013.

In the meantime, on January 15, 2013 the Park Service stepped up and proposed temporary regulations, found in each park’s compendium, to stop brown bear baiting, killing wolves and coyotes when they have pups, killing cubs and sows with cubs and killing bears in their dens during hibernation.  NPCA is strongly supporting these measures.  Each park’s compendium is its annual compilation of all designations, closures and restrictions imposed under the discretionary authority within the regulations covering national parks and are renewed each January.

Learn more about NPCA's work to protect wildlife.
Learn more about NPCA's Alaska Regional Office.


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