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.

Congress Rolls Back Obama-Era Rule On Hunting Bears And Wolves In Alaska

A pair of brown bears play in a pond at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage Glacier, Alaska, in 2009.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

By a largely party-line vote Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that repeals Obama-era hunting restrictions on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The House already voted last month to abolish those restrictions — which were instituted by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 to protect predator species from hunters — and so the bill now heads to the desk of President Trump, who is widely expected to sign it.

The FWS rule facing repeal explicitly prohibited many kinds of “predator control” on the 16 federally owned refuges in Alaska. That prohibition included a ban on the aerial hunting, live trapping or baiting of predators such as bears and wolves — as well as killing those predators while near their dens or their cubs.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, the Republican sponsor of the bill passed Tuesday, says these restrictions represented federal overreach.

“Not only does this action undermine Alaska’s ability to manage fish and wildlife upon refuge lands,” Young said, “it fundamentally destroys a cooperative relationship between Alaska and the federal government.”

Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, also representing Alaska, echoed those concerns Tuesday, saying the restrictions changed the state’s relationship with FWS “from one of cooperation to subservience,” The Associated Press reports.

“This rule is about Alaska,” he said.

Others, like Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, were not convinced.

“This isn’t about states’ rights,” she said, according to the wire service. “It’s not about prohibiting hunting. … It’s about how we can manage these wildlife refuges to the degree that agencies believe are necessary for the preservation of these wildlife heritage areas.”

As the Alaska Dispatch News points out, this debate gets to the core of a long-running dispute:

“At the heart of the disagreement between state and federal wildlife managers is what each group thinks should guide its purpose. The federal government has argued that the goal on refuges and in parks should be biodiversity. The state Board of Game has an interest in ensuring maximum sustained populations for hunting.”

Ensuring the “maximum sustained populations” of commonly hunted prey species like elk, moose and caribou often means reining in the populations of their predators — namely, bears and wolves. In the 2016 restrictions, federal regulators argued that the Alaskan Board of Game had gone too far in prioritizing the populations of prey species over predators.

It was an argument pursued by several Democratic senators, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, and environmental groups who were opposed to the rollback.

“This isn’t hunting — it’s slaughter,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Killing wolves and bears in this cruel, unsportsmanlike fashion is outrageous, especially in national wildlife refuges that belong to all Americans.”

He added: “Repealing these protections also undermines the critical role predators play in healthy ecosystems.”

Still, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says these objections come from activists unfamiliar with Alaska, where “state management of fish and wildlife is practically sacrosanct.”

“Opponents will allege that the repeal of this rule will legalize brutal predator control practices,” Murkowski said, according to the Dispatch News. “The Senate should know that it is already illegal for hunters to use certain practices — gas against wolves, traps to bears. You can’t do this in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.”

In working to repeal the FWS rule, Republican lawmakers turned again to the Congressional Review Act, a measure they also used to great effect last month in rolling back another Obama-era regulation.

As we explained then, the CRA is a means to review and cancel regulations issued in the final days of an outgoing administration: “The move allows the Senate to proceed with a simple majority, thus enabling GOP senators to avoid a filibuster by Democrats.”

A savage attack on predators

https://www.abqjournal.com/969229/a-savage-attack-on-predators.html

WASHINGTON – In its zeal to repeal, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule forbidding the baiting, trapping and “denning” of bears and wolves in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.The Senate is poised to consider the resolution as soon as next week.

Distilled to its essence, Alaska’s politicians want to reduce bear and wolf populations so hunters will have more moose and caribou to kill. Alaska’s full congressional delegation – Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (all Republicans) – is behind the push.

Arguing for passage of H.J. Res. 69, Young told of entering wolf dens and killing mother and pups back when he worked as a bounty hunter of predators. Presumably, this was intended to impress his fellow legislators, as are his office walls, which are bedecked with animal trophies.

This isn’t an anti-hunting column. I’m on record supporting humane hunting for food, and I recognize that without hunters, many of whom are ardent conservationists, many wetlands would have been drained for commercial development. This is a plea for common sense, compassion and conservation. What are wildlife refuges, after all, if not refuges for wildlife?

The underlying so-called principle behind the resolution is the GOP’s promise to reduce job-killing regulations. While zealous regulation has led to some corporate outsourcing – and responsible tweaks can be made here and there – not one job is protected nor one dime saved by overturning the wildlife agency’s rule.

One could even argue that Young’s move is anti-business. Alaska’s greatest resource second only to oil is tourism. People go to Alaska to hunt but also to visit the parks and see the animals. Watching animals, in fact, brings Alaska more tourism dollars than hunting does, according to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game.

The sheer savagery of what would become lawful if the Senate falls prey to its companion resolution (S.J. Res. 18) should give pause to anyone with a heartbeat.

Hunters could scout grizzlies from the air and then be deposited on the ground to kill them. (Aerial shooting is still forbidden.) They could hunt wolves during denning season, either shooting a mother wolf, thus dooming her babies, or entering the den and killing all, frequently with gas. Hunters could also bait, trap or snare, causing an agonizing death usually exacerbated by freezing temperatures. The traps are steel-jawed. A snare is a wire that wraps around an animal’s neck, then tightens as it pulls away.

These enhanced methods would target animals at their most vulnerable, in other words, and cause maximum suffering for no tenable reason. Moreover, artificially reducing the number of predators winnows down diversity essential to a healthy ecosystem, which can lead to unintended and disastrous consequences.

Of hunters, one must ask: Where is the sportsmanship in all of this? To Young and his like-minded colleagues, such a query is beside the point. Ultimately, they say, this is a states’ rights issue. There it is, the love Republicans can’t quit. In fact, no law grants state land managers authority to overrule federal land managers’ decisions related to federal land – for good reason.

Without the National Park Service, we might have had mining in the Grand Canyon, noted Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (where my son works), in a telephone interview. “Without federal protections, what’s to stop Wyoming from authorizing hunting grizzlies in Yellowstone?

“States’ rights simply don’t apply when you have a federal category of lands authorized by Congress,” he said. “This is really our Serengeti.”

As a humane matter, there’s no defending House Joint Resolution 69. As a regulatory issue, it defies logic. As an economic concern, protecting wildlife from cruel hunting practices makes sense.

Senators should vote to leave the protective rule in place – not only to protect our wildlife from politicians’ predatory practices but also to reassure Americans that the chamber still has a conscience.

Congress Advances Legislation to Kill Wolves, Bears in Alaska — Bill Would Repeal Protections on National Wildlife Refuges

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2017/predators-02-16-2017.php

For Immediate Release, February 16, 2017

Bill Would Repeal Protections on National Wildlife RefugesCongress Advances Legislation to Kill Wolves, Bears in Alaska

WASHINGTON— The House of Representatives today used the Congressional Review Act to strip away protections implemented during the Obama administration for wolves, bears and other predators on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. By eliminating these protections, the House measure greenlights killing wolves and their pups in their dens and allows bears to be gunned down at bait stations.

“Rolling back protections for predators defies everything wildlife refuges stand for,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Refuges are places where we celebrate biological diversity, not where wolves and bears are inhumanely killed for no good reason. It’s an outrage that Congress would revoke rules that stop the senseless slaughter of predators, heedless of the important role these animals play in healthy ecosystems.”

In August 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized regulations that protected predators from new predator-control tactics approved by Alaska’s Board of Game. These tactics include killing black bear cubs or mother with cubs at den sites; killing brown bears over bait; trapping and killing brown and black bears with steel-jaw leghold traps or wire snares; killing wolves and coyotes during denning season; and killing brown and black bears from aircraft.

Alaska’s predator control activities are intended solely to artificially inflate prey populations, such as moose, for human hunting. House Joint Resolution 69, citing authority under the Congressional Review Act, would undo all those protections.

“This action is yet another extremist assault on the environment by certain members of Congress,” Jeffers said. “This bill has no scientific support and would dismantle rules that ensure wildlife refuges help conserve our natural heritage for future generations. We will do everything in our power to fight this mean-spirited attack on these magnificent animals and stop it from becoming law.”

The Service’s predator-protection regulations are also under attack from the state of Alaska, which is challenging the regulations in federal court. The Center and its allies have intervened on behalf of the Service to defend the challenged regulations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.