Blog Post Jim Stratton Feb 1, 2012

The Park Service Should Not Be Forced to Support Alaska’s War on Bears

Objectionable and unsportsmanlike hunting practices have no place in our national preserves

I like bears. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Alaska over 30 years ago.

There is something about traveling in the wilderness with wild animals that are bigger than you that provides an edge to your outdoor experience. And I’ve seen my fair share of bears over the years … hundreds and hundreds of them fishing for salmon in Katmai, digging for ground squirrels in Gates of the Arctic or for razor clams in Lake Clark, climbing on a dead humpback whale that washed ashore in Glacier Bay, and eating berries in Wrangell-St. Elias.

So I was particularly irked when the Alaska Board of Game recently added shooting bears from airplanes to the state’s arsenal in its much larger war on both bears and wolves.

Unfortunately, that war has spilled over onto the 19 million acres managed by the National Park Service in Alaska. Wildlife agencies in all 50 states write the hunting regulations for all lands in their state, including those managed by the federal government. But when hunting regulations have a negative impact on national preserves, the National Park Service can and should create its own rules to override the state. That’s the scenario we have here in Alaska.

The state of Alaska and the Park Service have conflicting approaches to managing wildlife. The state’s Intensive Management strategy involves killing bears and wolves with the assumption that fewer predators mean more moose and caribou for human consumption. The Park Service, on the other hand, is charged by Congress to maintain natural and healthy wildlife populations and NPS rules prohibit the manipulation of any wildlife population to benefit another harvested species. So the issue is not if sport hunting is allowed on national preserve lands—it is. The issue is how you hunt.

In its desire to increase the numbers of moose and caribou, for example, the state has declared a quiet war on bears by authorizing, among other means, a hunting method called “spotlighting.” Imagine crawling into a bear den to shoot a hibernating Yogi or Smokey taking a winter’s nap. It’s legal in Alaska. The game board also authorizes killing cubs and mothers with cubs. There is nothing sportsmanlike in shooting bear cubs.

Other objectionable hunting methods currently authorized include bear baiting and snaring, which is particularly egregious because it is non-selective. Any bear—young, old, male, female, grizzly, or black—can get caught in a snare. It is not a hunting method—it’s a killing method used solely for reducing bear populations.

While the Park Service already chose to prohibit shooting bears from airplanes, our concern is with these other objectionable hunting methods that are still permissible. 

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For years, the National Park Service has been trying to cooperate with the state to exempt Park Service lands from these hunting methods, but to no avail. In fact, I have a list of 52 times in the past 10 years that the state has rejected Park Service requests to either change a regulation or exempt the Park Service from a regulation that was ultimately adopted. And I tried again at the January 2012 Board of Game meeting, but our proposals to exempt Park Service lands from baiting, snaring, spotlighting, shooting cubs and sows with cubs, and even taking wolves when they are raising pups were all voted down. So much for state and federal cooperation.

Now it’s up to the Park Service to step up and write additional rules to prohibit these other objectionable hunting methods. And when they do, NPCA will be there to support them.

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