A big win for Asian bears and a big loss for bear farmers

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

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.”

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham
A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

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.

Bowhunter leaves bear cubs without mother

Bowhunter leaves bear cubs without mother

MARK NIELSEN / PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN

JUNE 2, 2017

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.

– See more at: http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/news/local-news/bowhunter-leaves-bear-cubs-without-mother-1.20378863#sthash.dEq564YS.dpuf

Bears, chickens a lethal mix, conservation officer says

by Lori Garrison Friday May 26, 2017

This bear was killed by conservation officers in Hidden Valley May 19 after entering a pen and killing a goat. Another bear was shot by a property owner after it raided chicken coops.

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 lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

Proposed wildlife management plans alarm BC’s naturalists

April 13, 2017

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)

Saskatoon zoo opening research facility to study orphaned grizzly bears

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.

This year, during the bears’ hibernation, management at the zoo was working on making a connection with Foothills.

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

 
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/saskatoon-zoo-opens-new-med-facility-1.4085359

Despite Trump overturning refuge hunting rules, conflict remains

http://www.alaskajournal.com/2017-04-10/despite-trump-overturning-refuge-hunting-rules-conflict-remains#.WOvPEIjyvIU

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.”

Animal rights in the Trump Era: protecting Alaskan wildlife

With so much news coming from Washington DC these days, it’s hard to keep up with everything. One story that caught my eye and disgusts me to no end is a bill Trump recently signed into law.

What happens now? Predators, mostly bears and wolves, living on federal lands in Alaska will be slaughtered.

The law this bill repealed is an Obama-era regulation that prevented the hunting of bears and wolves on Alaskan federal lands unless it was deemed necessary to preserve the land’s refuge status. With the passage of this new law, bears and wolves can be shot from planes. They can be baited and shot. Cubs and pups can be killed in their dens, and mothers and their kids can be targeted and killed any time, any place.

As the former director of US Fish & Wildlife Services wrote in August of 2016, laws like this one are “purportedly aimed at increasing populations of caribou and moose but defies modern science of predator-prey relationships.” He was in favor of the Obama-era regulations that sought to protect predators on federal refuge lands. He stated that we should “ensure that predator and prey alike can thrive on our refuges.”

Why are bills like this, that so unfairly target predators–– going so far as to allow cubs and pups to be shot in their dens–– so popular among Republicans? The answer is the NRA, which backed this resolution. On the opposing side of the battle was the Humane Society, which urged Congress not to adopt the resolution.

One line in the NRA’s article about the law struck me as not only odd, but as an outright lie. They state that the ads the Humane Society aired in regards to the law are “falsely claiming that its repeal would allow for inhumane forms of taking bears and wolves.”

Is shooting hibernating bears in their dens not inhumane? Is chasing down bears from planes not inhumane? Is pulling the trigger on wolf puppies point-blank not inhumane?

The answer is obvious.

Now not only are the unethical and brutal murders of countless Alaskan bears and wolves legal, but the passage of this law suggests that we as a nation are okay with such inhumane actions. It also messes with the already fragile ecosystem, and will lead to the deaths of animals on refuge lands.

It is wrong, and I am deeply ashamed that it is now the law.

http://blog.timesunion.com/animalrights/animal-rights-in-the-trump-era-protecting-alaskan-wildlife/6512/

Trump Just Lifted A Ban On Shooting Bears And Wolves From Airplanes In Alaska

https://www.buzzfeed.com/salvadorhernandez/trump-just-lifted-a-ban-on-shooting-bears-and-wolves-from?utm_term=.dtVExXm7AZ#.hjE5KB39XE

An Obama-era rule prohibited the hunting of predator animals like bears and wolves in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.

Posted on April 3, 2017, at 7:57 p.m.

Petition: Setting A Bear Trap

MAR 27, 2017 — Watch as we set off a large bear trap and show just how barbaric these devices truly are .

Please keep sharing our petition and make your voice heard.

https://www.change.org/p/urge-president-trump-to-keep-protections-in-alaska-s-refuges/u/19835423?utm_medium=email&utm_source=49788&utm_campaign=petition_update&sfmc_tk=oaBgxvdiP59gcWpbzPpWk2XoacEu2Nr8E8nGwlHzYTdZgvECEmuDRGG3dJhnPhaJ

Senate votes to lift limits on hunting Alaska grizzlies and wolves on federal land

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/03/21/senate-votes-to-lift-limits-on-hunting-alaska-grizzlies-and-wolves-on-federal-land/?utm_term=.6baf206d0e36
March 22

The Senate voted Tuesday to abolish a rule restricting specific hunting practices on national wildlife refuges in Alaska — including trapping, baiting and aerial shooting — on the grounds that state officials should be able to set the terms for wildlife conservation on public land within their own borders.

The 52-to-47 vote, which was almost entirely along party lines, represented the latest instance of Republicans using a powerful legislative tool — the Congressional Review Act — to eliminate regulations that President Barack Obama’s administration finalized before he left office in January. Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) joined Republicans in backing the measure, and the measure needs only President Trump’s signature to become law.

With Trump’s support, congressional Republicans are working systematically to undo several environmental, labor and financial safeguards the previous administration put in place toward the end of Obama’s term. Under the 1996 law, any rule wiped off the books cannot be reinstated in a “substantially similar” form.

Although a disproportionate number of the regulations that have come under fire address energy and the environment, the larger debate has focused on whether the federal government has the right to establish sweeping rules Americans must live by or whether power should be devolved to the states.

During a sometimes-emotional debate Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats sparred over how best to define sportsmanship as well as state sovereignty.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) noted that the issue of managing wildlife “is something in Alaska that we take very, very seriously.” Recalling how she watched her grandparents and parents lobby for Alaska to become a state, she added, “It was all about fish, it was all about salmon. That’s one of the reasons we fought for statehood.”

But Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who spoke just before Murkowski, said the idea of allowing the killing of mother bears and cubs as well as denning wolves and pups would be putting “the federal stamp of approval on methods of take that the public views as unethical.”

“I don’t think that’s standing up for hunters,” he said. “I fear that it is endangering something that is critical to our culture and a way of life.”

Heinrich added that he had recently taken his 13-year-old son, Carter, on his first elk hunt, where “he soon learned that the hard work comes after you pull the trigger.” As his son painstakingly stripped the meat of the elk they had shot, the senator said, “Anything less would be unethical, and disrespectful to that magnificent wild animal.”

The National Rifle Association backed overturning the rule, as did the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska chapter of Safari Club International. In mid-January the state of Alaska challenged the regulation, along with an earlier hunting rule issued by the National Park Service, in federal court.

Environmental and animal welfare groups, by contrast, lobbied against the measure.

For years the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had negotiated on an annual basis how to establish hunting and fishing regulations for national wildlife refuges in the state, which encompass tens of millions of acres. But in 2013 the Alaska Board of Game, which is made up of political appointees, rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rules and instructed the state fish and game agency to write the regulations on their own.

In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said that in his state, “many hunt for survival, both personal and cultural. Alaskans have been able to maintain these strong and life-sustaining traditions through a rigorous scientific process that allows for public participation and ensures we manage our fish and game for sustainability, as required by the Alaska Constitution.”

 But Ashe and other defenders of the rule said some of the changes envisioned by state officials, such as allowing people to fly into a place where grizzlies or caribou had gathered and begin hunting that day, could disrupt the natural predator-prey balance in the wild. Ashe warned that while some hunters may want to decrease the number of bears and wolves so that the numbers of other popular game species, such as moose and caribou, rise, there will be unintended ripple effects.

“There’s a natural tension between what the state wants to do, and what the federal law compels the Fish and Wildlife Service to do,” he said.