In a party-line vote (similar to one already taken in the U.S. House) overriding the objections of the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and Alaska wildlife protection groups, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution on 21 March 2017 nullifying Obama-era Department of Interior regulations that prohibit the use of such tactics as baiting, spotlighting, and aerial spotting to hunt predatory animals on national preserve lands in Alaska.
If signed by President Trump (which is likely), H.J. Res. 69 will hand jurisdiction over the hunting of bears, wolves, and coyotes on Alaska’s 20 million acres of federally-protected national preserves back to the state, which, since 1994, has had “predator control” laws on the books aimed at maximizing wild game populations for recreational hunting.
After years of disputing the legality of some of these practices, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented new rules in 2015 and 2016 permanently banning them in national preserves. The rules, which do not apply to subsistence hunting, nor to lands not under the protection of the federal government, prohibit the following:
- Taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs (exception allowed for resident hunters to take black bear cubs or sows with cubs under customary and traditional use activities at a den site October 15-April 30 in specific game management units in accordance with State law);
- Taking brown bears over bait;
- Taking of bears using traps or snares;
- Taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season (May 1-August 9); and
- Taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred. The take of wolves or wolverines from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred is already prohibited under current refuge regulations.
Despite support from scientific, environmental, and animal welfare advocacy groups, the federal regulations have been unpopular with many Alaskans. In January 2017, Alaska officials filed a lawsuit contending that the regulations amount to federal overreach and will have an adverse impact on the ecosystem and citizens of the state. In February 2017, with the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club International, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced H.J. Res. 69 to redress what he termed a “wrongful seizure of authority” by the federal government:
From the beginning, I said I would do everything in my power to overturn this illegal jurisdictional power grab by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, we’re one step closer to delivering on that commitment and eliminating a wrongful seizure of Alaska’s fish and wildlife management authority. I’m thankful to all those that played a role in moving this important resolution of disapproval, including that countless state and local stakeholders that worked with me to fight a very serious and alarming overreach by the Executive Branch. I look forward to seeing the swift consideration of H.J. Res. 69 in the Senate.
The Humane Society of the United States took exception in a 16 February 2017 statement arguing that passage of the bill should “shock the conscience of every animal lover in America”:
The U.S. House of Representatives overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that stopped a set of appalling and unsporting predator control methods on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. These egregious practices include shooting or trapping wolves while at their dens with cubs, using airplanes to scout for grizzly bears to shoot, trapping bears with cruel steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares and luring grizzly bears with food to get a point blank kill. Republicans, with only a few dissents, provided the votes for the measure, which passed by a vote of 225 to 193.
Rep. Young and others in favor of the bill argue that some of the practices outlawed in the federal regulations are also banned by Alaska state law, making the former largely redundant.
H.J. Res. 69 next goes to President Trump for signature before it can take effect.