(CNN)The suspects documented their kill in graphic photos — grinning near slumped over carcasses, posing with a decapitated elk head and taking a selfie with animal blood splattered over one of the alleged poacher’s face.
by Fran Silverman, FOA Friends of Animals
The Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation….
Hunter supporters use unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public to justify bear hunting.
Image from Memories of Elephants
If it sounds ridiculous, it likely is. So say this out loud and tell me how it sounds.
Shooting endangered and threatened species will help save them.
Here’s another one.
Hunters are helping keep you safe by killing black bears.
In honor of National Wildlife Week, let’s parse these statements.
Supporters of black bear hunts assert that the bears are a nuisance at best and a safety hazard at their worst. They point to unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public. Killing them will solve this, they say. And the hunters then get to take home the bears to mount or use as rugs. Nice reward for saving all of us.
On a national level, the Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation.
The thing is, the science doesn’t back any of this up. This month a new study published in Science Advances found issues with the science cited in the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation,” which guides hunting policies. The study found that what counts for science is rarely defined. In fact, a majority of the science in management plans surveyed — 60 percent — contained fewer than half of criteria for the fundamental hallmarks of science, which include measurable objectives, evidence, transparency and independent review. The report reviewed 62 U.S. state and Canadian provincial and territorial agencies across 667 species management systems.
“These results raise doubt about the purported scientific basis of hunt management across the U.S. and Canada,’’ it concluded.
The claims of hunting as conservation of endangered and threatened species also don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. There aren’t any documented, peer-reviewed studies that show that lawful hunting does not overall disadvantage the species being hunted. Emerging studies, in fact, indicate that legal hunting can increase demand, promote black-market trade of sport-hunted animals and reduce the stigma associated with killing wildlife.
The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions. The population of lions has declined by 42 percent, with just about 20,000 left. Additionally, a new study by Duke University found that poaching and habitat loss have reduced forest elephant populations in Central Africa by 63 percent since 2001.
Yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was lifting a ban on trophies from several African nations and will allow them on a case-by-case basis. This action, coupled with the Department of Interior’s creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council comprised of hunting industry representatives whose stated goal is to advise the agency on the benefits of international hunting, removing barriers to the importation of trophy-hunted animals, and reverse suspensions and bans on trade of wildlife, sends the message that the only way to save these majestic creatures is to make sure it’s easier to shoot them to death.
On a local level, here in my home state of Connecticut where FoA is headquartered, I listened intently as supporters of a bill to kill 5 percent of the black bear population in the lovely Litchfield County region insisted it was necessary to prevent bear-human conflict. Bears are killing livestock! Bears are getting into garbage cans! Knocking over bird feeders! Scaring hikers on trails! Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
I’m not making light of a bear encounter. They are formidable. But the science and the math for a shoot-first approach doesn’t add up. First, bears are shy and attacks are more associated with human behavior than the population of bears, studies show. To ward them off if you are a hiker, wear bear bells, carry bear spray. Worried about your backyard farm animals? Install an electric fence. Certainly, don’t feed bears, keep your doors shut and remove bird feeders in the spring.
The truth is black bear attacks are super rare. In the past 20 years, there’s been 12 fatal black bear attacks in the U.S, yet thousands of black bears have been slaughtered in legal hunts. More than 4,000 bears were killed in New Jersey alone since bear hunts were legalized there under Governor’s Christie’s reign before the new governor halted them. In New York, more than 1,000 black bears were killed in hunts last year.
Yet, along with that news in New York about the success of its 2017 bear hunt, there was this item buried in a press release from the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation: 19 humans were injured by hunters last year and one was fatality shot, a woman who was just walking her dogs in the woods by her house. In fact, between 2011-2017, there’s been 14 humans killed by hunters and 131 injured in New York. In Connecticut, hunters have killed one human and injured 13 between 2011-2016. The number of bear fatalities in both these states? Zero.
The more I dug into fatal black bear attacks verses fatal hunting incidents, the more alarmed I became. In just six states I reviewed where bear hunting is allowed or being considered, there have been 500 humans injured by hunters and 63 killed. The stories are sad. People who were fishing when they got shot by an errant hunter’s bullet. Hunters shooting each other and themselves. And there was Rosemary Billquist, a 43-year-old hospice volunteer who was the woman from upstate New York shot dead last fall by her neighbor.
When FoA testified against a black bear hunt in Connecticut, pointing out the hundreds of injuries and startling number of humans killed by hunters, dispelling the myth that bear sightings at all indicate bear populations and showing there is a weak correlation between the number of bears in a region and bear-human conflict, the majority of lawmakers on the state’s environment committee saw the light and voted down the hunt.
But black bear hunts are still legal in a majority of states. It’s estimated that 40,000-50,000 black bears have been killed in hunts. But the fact is the number of fatal black bear attacks are rare.
Human hunting related deaths and injuries – not so rare.
The number of U.S. residents who hunt is dwindling every year. Yet, the damage they are doing to wildlife and other humans is astounding.
Elephants are becoming rare. So are lions. Shooting them to hang on walls doesn’t conserve them.
The math is the math and the science is the science.
Friends of Animals’ Communications Director Fran Silverman oversees FoA’s public affairs and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, staff writer and editor positions and contributing writer for The New York Times.
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BILLINGS- A man is recovering in the hospital after he was attacked by a grizzly bear while hunting with a friend near the Dry Gulch, Cascade Creek area south of Ennis.
The two hunters were bugling for elk on Monday morning when they came upon a grizzly bear eating a carcass, said Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Chief Information Officer Greg Lemon.
The two men yelled at the bear, and it began to charge, according to a post from the victim’s friend.
The two men attempted to spray the animal with bear spray, but only one man’s spray deployed.
The grizzly bear then attacked Tom Sommer, scratching at the man’s head and shoulders as he tried to shoot the bear.
The bear bit through Sommer’s thigh and then put the victim’s head in its mouth, according to Sommer’s friend.
Sommer was then able to spray the animal with bear spray from about two feet away and escaped.
Sommer was taken to the hospital, where his friend said he received 90 stitches in his head.
It’s unclear where Sommer is from.
Lemon said the area where the two men encountered the bear is a very remote section near the headwaters of the west fork of the Madison River.
In the past few years, Lemon said there’s only been a handful of bear encounters in that area.
Lemon said FWP would not attempt to capture the bear because it’s believed the bear attacked in self-defense.
Sommer’s friend posted the photos to Facebook said Sommer was being released from the hospital on Tuesday, though the Madison Valley Medical Center would not confirm that information.
-Aja Goare reporting for MTN News
Romania on Monday said it would kill or relocate 140 bears and 97 wolves following a rise in the number of attacks on humans, sparking outrage from animal rights groups.
The measures aim to “prevent important damages and protect public health and safety”, the environment ministry said in a statement.
A government-appointed commission of scientists backed the move, saying that it did not “endanger the conservation of these two species”.
The decision to let the authorities carry out the killings also “prevents trophy hunting“, according to the experts.
But the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) strongly denounced the measure and blamed the issue on deforestation.
“The authorities should first address the problems that have prompted bears to get closer and closer to human settlements in the search for food,” Cristian Papp, the head of WWF’s Romanian branch, told AFP.
Last October, a similar outcry forced the environment ministry to retract quotas allowing hunters to kill 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 lynxes.
Romania’s vast areas of virgin forest are home to around 6,000 brown bears—some 60 percent of Europe’s population—which mostly roam the Carpathian Mountains.
In recent months, an increasing number have entered towns and villages looking for food.
In July, two shepherds were seriously injured in a bear attack in the Carpathian region.
A month earlier, authorities were forced to temporarily close the famous Poenari Castle—the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic novel “Dracula”—after tourists came face to face with a mother bear and her three cubs.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-09-romania-wolves.html#jCp
For thousands of years, cultures in southern and eastern Asia have reached for bear bile to combat a whole range of aliments. Today, science has shown this wasn’t just superstition: bears are the only mammal to churn out large qualities of an acid shown to help the treatment of liver and kidney disease, as well as severe eye problems.
But in the modern age, the potential medicinal effects of bear bile have led to a rapacious underground of “bear farms” where the animals are basically squeezed like lemons for juice – only here, the process involves invasive, unregulated surgeries where bears are repeatedly tapped for their bile while captive in terrible conditions.
On Wednesday, however, opponents of the bear bile industry notched a significant win in Vietnam, one of the currents centers for farming. In Hanoi, representatives of the country’s Administration of Forestry signed a memorandum of understanding with Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization. Per the fine print, the government and organization agreed to work together to rescue and relocate the 1,000 bears believed to be living on bear farms across the country. The agreement comes after years of campaigning by Animals Asia.
“Crucially, the government has agreed to close the loophole that has allowed bile farming to persist for the last decade,” Tuan Bendixsen, the group’s Vietnam director, said in a statement. With the accord, “they have agreed that there can be no bears kept on farms, because as long as they are there, they will suffer extraction.”
But problems remain, including how a cash-poor country like Vietnam can enforce regulation and also care for the rescued bears. This, coupled with a legal and profitable bear bile industry just over the border in China, could upset any full-court press to eradicate the industry.
Two species, the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear, are indigenous to the region. According to 2002’s “The Bear Bile Business: The Global Trade in Bear Products from China to Asia and Beyond,” medical texts reaching back 3,000 years to the Chinese Ming Dynasty first mention Asiatic Black bears as a species with curative properties. Studies would later tie these medicinal effects to the bear liver’s unique amount of ursodeoxycholic acid, a metabolic byproduct of bacteria in the intestine. In traditional medicine, however, the bile – which is sold both pure in small vials as well as an ingredient in other products – has been labeled a cure-all for everything from cancer to hangovers, National Geographic reports.
Traditional medical beliefs haven’t disappeared from the region due to a helping hand from the state. For the last 30 years, the governments in both China and Vietnam have invested in and encouraged traditional medicine as a parallel health system to the modern approach. The trend continues today: “The number of traditional medicine hospitals at provincial level in Viet Nam has expanded from 53 in 2010 to 58 in 2015,” a 2016 study on the bear industry conducted animal rights group TRAFFIC noted. “In 2015, 92.7 percent general hospitals in the country has traditional medicine department which has increased 3.2 percent in comparison with 2010.”
Bear farms reportedly first cropped up in the mid-1980s in China and quickly hopped the Red River south into Vietnam. The practice technically became illegal in the later country in 1992, according to Animals Asia, when the government passed a law requiring state approval to keep bears. A loophole, however, allowed people to have bears as household pets.
The legal gray area, coupled with the state’s inability to enforce the laws, led to a proliferation of bears in captivity on farms. Animals Asia determined that between 1999 and 2005 the number of bears on farms in Vietnam jumped from 400 to 4,000. In 2005, the government again passed legislation, this time outlawing bile extraction. But the agreement again allowed farmers to keep the bears they already had, and the industry continued.
The 2016 TRAFFIC report estimated there were still 13,000 bears in farms across Asia, with 10,000 in China, where the trade is legal. Around 1,000 bears are believed to be still on farms in Vietnam. Anti-bear-bile activists cite the conditions and treatment of animals as ammunition for their arguments. The bile extraction process is ugly stuff. Farmers conduct surgery on the animals to extract the bile, draining the liquid with a catheter or cutting passageways to the gallbladder.
In 2015, when Vice News visited a bear farm in the northern Vietnam “bears sat hunched over in cramped, rusty cages, panting from the heat and humidity. Their excrement sat in piles below each of their cages. The bears were thin and some were missing patches of hair.” A year earlier, Animals Asia toured a facility in Halong City, they found 20 percent of the bears emaciate, many severely malnourished, 20 percent missing a limb, 100 percent suffering from paw injuries from standing on bars.
Wednesday’s agreement between Animals Asia and Vietnam is the second major score for the group in as many years. In 2015, the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association promised to stop prescribing bear bile products by 2020. This week’s agreement with the government outlaws the private ownership of bears and calls for the confiscation and resettlement of the 1,000 animals currently living on farms.
The party next must move forward on securing funding for sanctuaries for the rescued bears. Animals Asia does have a location in Vietnam, but the relocation will take more space for the bears. Meanwhile, expert worry the bile market will simply move to nearby Laos or continue to flourish in China.
“This, of course, doesn’t end the work,” Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said in a statement. “Quite the opposite, but it now means we work together with a common goal – to end this cruelty.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has rescued one black bear cub and is keeping an eye out for two more after their mother was killed by a bowhunter in the Hart this week.
The sow’s body was found Wednesday off Aintree Drive near the Inverness Mobile Home Park.
Conservation officers found the three cubs up a tree in the vicinity on Thursday and were able to tranquilize one but the other two were too far up for a safe shot so they were left alone.
“I’ve got a couple of residents there who are going to keep an eye out and if they see them and if they are able to, are going to grab them and toss them in a kennel because they’re pretty small,” conservation officer Eamon McArthur said Friday afternoon.
Killing a sow bear with cubs is a violation of the Wildlife Act, as is failing to retrieve a kill. Bowhunting within city limits is legal although the consequences can be stiff if someone is hit by an errant arrow.
Although a warning or a fine is still possible, hunters who kill a sow is asked to report the incident to the Conservation Officer Service so the cubs can be rescued.
“This is relatively close to town and we’ve managed to locate one of the cubs but if this was out in the bush and they just dropped and left it, well those cubs would starve to death, likely,” McArthur said.
Anyone who has information on who is responsible for the death is asked to call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.
by Friday May 26, 2017
Six bears have been killed in the Whitehorse area in recent weeks after coming into conflict with humans.
Two of the most recent kills — one on May 19 in Hidden Valley and one in Mount Lorne on May 22 — involved bears attracted to livestock, said conservation officer Ken Knutson.
The Hidden Valley bear entered a pen containing two goats, one of which was killed, before the bear was “destroyed for safety reasons” by conservation officers, said Knutson.
The Mount Lorne bear was lawfully shot by a property owner after it raided three other chicken coops in the area, said Knutson. The property owner lost 15 chickens.
Chickens are particularly tempting to bears, Knutson said, because they are high in fat and calories. Once a bear gets a taste for chicken it is very hard to deter them in the future which can be a death sentence for the animal, he said.
“I often say, ‘chickens kill bears,’” Knutson said. “We’ve destroyed many bears over the last five years over chickens. We have yet to see an instance of a bear that has gotten into chickens and doesn’t come back.”
The best way to protect chickens and other livestock from bears — and bears from being shot for eating chickens and livestock — is to use electric fencing, said Knutson.
“A shock from a fence is a deterrent, it’s not a very comfortable feeling … you don’t want to do it again,” he said.
It’s the responsibility of people to try to deter animals from entering their property in search of food, said Knutson. Livestock should be secure and people should take steps to manage bear attractants such as garbage or unlocked outdoor freezers.
“Just because you haven’t had a problem doesn’t mean you won’t,” he said. “No one is immune to bears.”
The number of bear interactions and bear kills from previous years in the Whitehorse area were not readily available for comparison.
Bear-human conflicts can occur at anytime outside of the animal’s hibernation period, Knutson said.
Bear sightings were reported earlier in the month along the Riverdale trail, a popular hiking area within city limits, although those bears — a sow and cubs — haven’t been seen recently Knutson said.
“We haven’t had any calls about that sow in a while — she’s being a good mama and keeping her cubs away from people,” he said.
People can report bear sightings or problem animals to Environment Yukon at 1-800-661-0525.
The department is also currently running a survey on grizzly bear management and conservation. The online survey closes May 27.
“We’re hoping a lot of Yukoners will contribute to it,” Knutson said.
Contact Lori Garrison at email@example.com
Press release from BC Nature – for immediate release
Nature-lovers across BC are expressing concern over a proposed new method for managing wildlife in the province. Speaking on behalf of BC Nature, the federation of naturalist clubs across BC, president Dr. Alan Burger said “Our members are alarmed by recent statements by government ministers indicating that wildlife management might be handed over to an external agency supported by special interest groups, specifically hunters and guide- outfitters”. This model of wildlife management will undoubtedly work against the interests of the vast majority of British Columbians, added Burger.
Recent statements by Ministers Steve Thomson (Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Management) and Bill Bennett (Energy and Mines) suggest that, if the BC Liberals win this election, much wildlife management will be handed over to an independent agency, funded in part by hunting and fishing licences. Both ministers made these statements while flanked by members of the BC Wildlife Federation, the influential hunting and fishing advocacy group. It is well known that BCWF has long been lobbying the government for a greater say in wildlife management, citing the millions of dollars paid in hunting and fishing licences as the reason for greater input.
“This proposal is flawed at several levels” stated Burger. First, the economic argument is false. Hunting and fishing licences are an important source of revenue and BC Nature agrees that there should be a greater share contributed to wildlife management. But, there is much greater input to the BC economy from the non-consumptive users of wildlife – the tourism and wildlife-watching industry, people selling binoculars, camera gear, field guides, outdoor gear etc. and, most importantly, the vast majority of British Columbians that spend money traveling and camping to simply enjoy seeing animals alive in the wild.
BC has not undertaken research recently to investigate the economic benefits of wildlife- watching, but in neighbouring Washington the research shows that wildlife-watching contributes five times the economic benefit ($1.5 billion) that hunting does. A study in 2006 by the US Fish and Wildlife found that over 71 million Americans spent nearly $45 billion on retail sales while observing, feeding or watching wildlife in the US. Canadians are likely to spend even more per capita. Wildlife viewing is a growing business and BC is becoming a world-class destination for this highly sustainable activity.
Second, the proposed method for implementing wildlife management is flawed. There is no doubt that much more money is needed to enhance wildlife and ecosystem management, secure critical habitat and deal with the increasing impacts of industrial and human footprints in our province. Habitat loss, in particular, is a huge issue across many ecosystems in B.C. But this needs to be done by government and not through some external agency, which might be heavily biased towards consumptive users of wildlife. The B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch and related departments within the provincial government have a long and proud history of serving the people of this province. They haven’t always made the right decisions and their hands are often tied by the political goals of the ruling party, but
they are professional, accountable to the electorate, can bring in expertise and resources from other government departments and outside consultants, and remain independent of powerful lobby-groups like the BCWF. “This new proposal verges on privatization of our wildlife management” said Burger.
Proponents of this new wildlife management plan indicate that it will follow the model of the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, which currently manages recreational fishing as well as freshwater hatcheries in B.C. “There is a fundamental difference between recreational fishing and terrestrial wildlife management”, continued Burger, who taught wildlife ecology at UVic for many years, “Wildlife, like mammals and birds, is enjoyed for many more reasons and in a much wider range of habitats and locations, than the fish taken by recreational fishing. One cannot equate the two management scenarios”.
Third, the words of the two ministers and the enthusiastic endorsement of the hunting lobby indicates that there is a very real risk of wildlife management in BC being more narrowly focused on big game. This is a retrograde step, because the BC government has been slowly moving towards a more scientifically sound ecosystem-based approach, giving appropriate value to the 99% of organisms that are not game animals. This proposal pulls out one component of our ecosystems (big game) and plans to manage it separately. Nature is not compartmentalized. We cannot manage one aspect of the system in isolation.
Finally, it appears that only the hunting-fishing lobby was consulted on this proposal. The ministers’ announcements came as a complete surprise to BC Nature. There is also no evidence that the tourism and wildlife-watching industries, First Nations or the general wildlife-enjoying public was consulted.
People who enjoy viewing wildlife and who endorse a broad ecological approach to managing our province will be watching closely to see where this proposal goes. “It will be good to see wildlife management become an election issue” concluded Burger, “It has been a neglected topic by all major political parties for too long. But this new proposal by the current government is clearly not in the interests of the BC public and seems to serve only a narrow interest-group”.
For further information contact:
Alan Burger – president BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists)
Bears Mistaya and Koda will help shed light on those in the wild
By Alex Soloducha, CBC News Posted: Apr 25, 2017 4:12 PM CT
The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo is beginning a new partnership with the Foothills Research Institute to start a grizzly bear research program in the city.
The five-year agreement between the two organizations will allow Foothills scientists to use Saskatoon zoo facilities to take part in conservation research on a variety of animals of different species currently housed there, starting with two orphaned grizzly bears.
The Saskatoon Zoo acquired two young grizzly bears in 2006. Mistaya and Koda were both orphaned in Alberta, paired at the Calgary Zoo and later transferred to their permanent home in Saskatoon.
Manager of the Saskatoon zoo, Tim Sinclair-Smith, said the organization is working to make research and conservation a priority.
“We shouldn’t have them here at all if we’re just going to display them,” he said.
Foothills researchers have been working on long-term conservation of grizzly bears in Alberta since 1999.
Their primary objective is to understand how the health of individual grizzly bears is influenced by human activities and changing environmental conditions. The second goal is to examine how that health affects the growth, stability and resilience of grizzly bear populations.
The City of Saskatoon will pool in-kind resources to create a Wildlife Health Centre, consisting of a laboratory for Foothills researchers. No changes will be done to the structure of the facilities, which are being outfitted with necessary lab equipment.
“For them to build a facility … you’re talking millions and millions of dollars,” Sinclair-Smith said. “This was a great opportunity for them to be able to utilize the data they can gather from these guys and use them for a baseline for all the research that they’re doing with the bears in the wild.”
The Foothills scientists will test samples of hair, feathers and scales picked up through non-invasive sample gathering.
Their research findings will often be communicated directly with zoo visitors.
With files from Charles Hamilton
Although Congress put an end to a set of federal restrictions on wildlife management on national wildlife refuges in Alaska, the underlying conflict is far from over.
President Donald Trump signed a House Joint Resolution on Tuesday overturning a set of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations enacted in 2016. The rule restricted certain hunting methods on national wildlife refuges in Alaska, with additional specific rules for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Under the rule, predator control activities were banned unless based on sound science and in response to a conservation concern or met refuge need. On the Kenai, additional public use restrictions went into place, including some plane and motorboat access, camping restrictions and requiring a permit for baiting black bears and prohibiting using a dog to hunt big game except black bears, among other rules.
The state filed a lawsuit in January against the Department of the Interior over the Fish and Wildlife rules and another set of hunting restrictions set by the National Park Service in Alaska’s national preserves. The Safari Club International, a hunting organization, filed a similar lawsuit of its own about a week later. A few days after that, the Alaska Professional Hunting Association filed its own lawsuit over the same regulations.
“Passage of this resolution reaffirms our state sovereignty, and the state’s authority to manage fish and wildlife statewide, including on federal public lands,” said Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth in a news release issued Tuesday. “Alaskans depend on wildlife for food. Reversal of these regulations will allow residents to continue their hunting and gathering traditions.”
Despite the overturn, there’s still a sharp philosophical management disagreement between federal wildlife managers and state wildlife managers, and unless one side’s mandate changes, the disagreement will remain. Fish and Wildlife manages the national wildlife refuges for natural biological diversity, without promoting prey species over predators. Fish and Game, on the other hand, is mandated to manage for maximum sustained yield, which would provide enough harvestable animals to provide for hunters. The National Park Service protects the lands it manages and all the wildlife on them, prohibiting hunting entirely on national preserves.
Stacey said the group contests that by bypassing the state’s game management authority, the refuge and national park rules effectively amend the state’s constitution.
“(The state constitution) is where you get the maximum sustained yield management rules,” he said. “Within (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act), it says nothing is supposed to modify or amend the state’s constitution. We argue that whrere the federal government steps in and imposes a foreign management philosophy, that actually effectively amends the state’s constitution.”
The three agencies cooperate on management issues, but there have been times over the years when the Board of Game or Fish and Game crossed a line and trigged a reaction from the feds. A recent example was when the Board of Game authorized the taking of brown bears over bait on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said Board of Game chairman Ted Spraker.
“We allowed the taking of brown bears over bait in 2013, and the refuge immediately said, ‘Not on the refuge,’” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”
There are management tools built in, such as an overall quota for brown bears taken in the area before the season closes, he said. The refuge allows baiting for black bears in an area of Game Management Unit 15A but put brown bears off limits, which seemed inconsistent, he said.
The National Park Service regulations are still in place, so the lawsuits will go on with those challenges, and the regulations on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are still in place, so the Safari Club’s lawsuit will still challenge those.
“It has more to do with not ceding authority to the federal systems compared to whether the department and the Board of Game will change things that we’re currently doing,” Spraker said. “I don’t see any major changes coming because of this, I think there will be a little more cooperation on some of the issues, but I don’t see the refuges embracing any sort of predator management because of this.”
The overturning of the rule must be frustrating for the agency, though, said Michelle Sinnott, an attorney with environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, which represents a group of conservation organizations that petitioned to intervene in the three lawsuits and have been granted intervener status in the Safari Club and Alaska Professional Hunters Association lawsuits.
“It’s maddening to a sense and I’m sure it’s very frustrating for federal agencies, because the Congressional Review Act takes a sledgehammer to agencies’ years of work and communications with the public and public noticing comment and meetings with people in the region,” she said.
ANILCA has a role to play too. The act, passed in 1980, affected about 157 million acres of federal land in Alaska and changed management for others, including converting the Kenai National Moose Range into the current Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Its baseline principles include the provision of managing for natural diversity, and so even with the 2016 rules changed, with ANILCA still in place, the conflict still stands between federal management of wildlife on federal land and state sovereignty.
“That question is still alive and well and we’ll be part of it now,” Sinnott said. “It’s great that our intervention was granted, because now there’s a whole host of Alaskan voices that will be heard in these cases.”
Once the debate moved to the national level, the groups supporting Fish and Wildlife’s rule received support from members of Congress who saw problems with the rules themselves and with the state asserting its right to manage wildlife on federal lands, said Pat Lavin with the Alaska office of conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.
“To have any state kind of challenge that and claim that the state has the right to do whatever it wants … I think plenty of members of Congress saw that right away and that was all the noise,” he said. “Unfortunately, we lost the vote anyway. There’s plenty of folks in Congress who understand that and aren’t crazy about it but were willing to undo this regulation.”
Lavin agreed that ANILCA would help reinforce current management practices. Refuges around the country don’t always follow the strict state regulations, he said.
“It is true, and not only in Alaska but around the whole country, that as a general proposition in managing refuge lands, the Fish and Wildlife Service defer at least initially to the place they’re in, in a given refuge,” he said. “That’s kind of the default position, but on top of that, the refuge does things all the time that are specific to the refuge and may or may not be consistent with state regulations.”
Spraker said he was optimistic that with the new federal administration, a new Department of the Interior director and a new Alaska regional supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service, state and federal managers could collaborate on management more.
“I don’t think this is going to make a major change in how we do business, but I do think it’s going to increase the level of collaboration between the state and federal agencies,” he said. “And with new leadership, I think that will lend itself toward cooperation with the state.”