by Wayne Pacelle
One of the most despicable acts against animals in contemporary times is the aerial gunning of wildlife – chasing down these animals in aircraft and then strafing them with bullets, mainly as a way to wipe out local populations and artificially boost populations of moose and caribou for hunters to shoot at a later time. It’s not only a scrambling of intact ecological systems, but it is barbaric, and it’s been sanctioned by some Alaska politicians and their appointees at the Board of Game in Alaska for years, even though voters in the state time and time again have tried to ban it by ballot initiative.
In 2015 and 2016, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “not on our lands,” and adopted rules to forbid aerial scouting, landing, and then shooting of wolves and grizzly bears; killing of hibernating black bear mothers with cubs; and denning of predators on national preserves and national wildlife refuges. It was a long overdue pair of policies, and broadly supported by so many Alaskans and by people throughout the nation.
Now these rules are facing a double-barreled attack – in the federal courts and in Congress.
The HSUS joined several national and local conservation groups this week to challenge an attempt by trophy hunting interests to reopen some of the cruelest hunting practices on federal lands in Alaska. Lawsuits filed last month by the state of Alaska and Safari Club International seek to nix the regulations. And next week, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Alaska’s sole Congressman, Don Young, will offer a resolution to strike the rule, under a law known as the Congressional Review Act. The CRA allows Congress, by simple majorities in the House and Senate and with the signature of the president, to strike any recent rule of the prior administration in the first few months of a new Congress.
These are our federal lands, and the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are the primary managers. Those attacking these rules are attacking the professional wildlife managers who developed these policies on the ground in Alaska. At field hearings conducted in the run-up to the final rulemaking actions, significant numbers of Alaskans testified in favor of adopting the rules. It’s false framing for Rep. Young and anyone else to say Alaskans oppose these rules and support these unsporting and barbaric practices. In fact, voters have put the issues of aerial gunning of wolves on the ballot three times, and passed two of the measures (still lawmakers, violating the wishes of their own constituents, overturned those laws).
Congress created national wildlife refuges and national preserves so people can enjoy these magical places, but also to allow wildlife to thrive. We now know too much about wolves and grizzly bears to treat them like a curse and to try to decimate them. They play an essential role in balancing ecosystems, and have a cascade effect to benefit species up and down the food chain and even to help forest and stream health. It also is a proven truth that wolves and grizzly bears are the biggest draws for tourists who trek to Alaska and spend over $2 billion annually to see these creatures in their native habitats. Wildlife-based tourism creates thousands of jobs and commerce for Alaska – particularly for rural gateway communities. The FWS has reported that, in Alaska, wildlife watchers number 640,000 compared to 125,000 hunters and spend five times more ($2 billion) than hunters ($425 million) for wildlife recreational opportunities.
The state officials who brought these lawsuits, and the federal lawmakers from Alaska who are pushing their resolutions to repeal these new federal rules, are working against the economic interests of their state in advocating for more killing and maiming of wolves and grizzly bears. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service were right to draw a line and say these activities cannot occur on federal lands set aside for wildlife. Wolves and bears are the best ambassadors for these land holdings, and no one has to pay them a dime or provide an ounce of food or a drop of water. They just need to be left alone.
But those rules are in jeopardy unless you act. Contact your federal lawmakers and urge opposition to the Young CRA joint resolution (H.J. Res. 69) and a similar effort in the Senate, advanced by Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (S.J. Res. 18).
It’s time to raise your voice if we want to ground the aerial gunships revving up to kill wildlife on some of America’s most extraordinary wild lands and ecosystems.