FAIRBANKS – State biologists issued an emergency order Friday closing the wolf hunting and trapping season on state land along the Stampede Trail, including land adjacent to the eastern boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve.
The area has been the site of a years-long political and public policy battle about the killing of wolves that roam on state and federal land.
“Preliminary data indicate up to eight wolves have been taken this year in the area near the Stampede Trail, though exact harvest locations are unknown,” a news release from the Department of Fish and Game reads. “Over the last five years, the average area harvest has been about four wolves per year.”
Hunting season for wolves had been scheduled to run through April 15, and trapping season was to end on April 30. The wolf season will remain open for hunters until 11:59 p.m. Monday and for an additional week for trappers, until 11:59 p.m. April 9.
The final number of wolves legally killed in the unit won’t be known until trappers report their harvest. They have until 30 days after the season closes to file their report.
“Current levels of wolf harvest do not cause a biological or conservation problem for wolves in Unit 20C, which includes a large portion of Denali National Park and Preserve,” Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale said in a news release. “However, there is the potential for more wolves to be harvested this season.”
The wolf population around Denali National Park has been a highly controversial subject for decades. Opponents of wolf hunting and trapping the area say the number of wolves being killed is having a detrimental affect on the overall wolf population in the region, especially in Denali National Park, where reported wolf sightings by visitors have declined in recent years.
“This high level of take has impacted several wolf family groups, ecological dynamics, and the prospects for wolf viewing for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park — our top value tourism destination in Alaska,” said Rick Steiner, a years-long vocal advocate for a no hunting or trapping buffer zone on state land along the Denali National Park boundary.
Steiner praised Gov. Bill Walker and Cotten for the decision, though he said the closure affects an area smaller than what he and others sought on March 24 in a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten.
“It is a recognition of the exceptional value of Denali wildlife to the state’s tourism industry,” he said in an emailed response to the emergency closure. “The fact is that this area should never have been open to wolf hunting/trapping in the first place.”
“The area we proposed to be closed is much larger than what the state has closed here, but at least it is something,” he said.
A bill to create a buffer zone in the area passed the Alaska House in May 2017 but was not taken up in the Senate until last week, where it was heard in the Senate Resources Committee and held.
House Bill 105 passed 22-18, with all of the votes in favor coming from the Democrat-led majority coalition. The bill is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
This story will be updated.
As Americans enjoy this long weekend of remembrance, many will find their way to a national or state park hoping to see wildlife in their natural habitats. Last year over 300 million people visited the national parks alone, the highest number on record. Tourists photographed bears and bobcats, bison and moose, foxes, wolves, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, owls, and more.
What most visitors didn’t see is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that our wildlife is protected, and species on the brink of extinction don’t disappear. Project Coyote is just one of many organizations committed to protecting our public lands and public trust, ensuring that the wild animals visitors hope to see receive the protections they deserve, as outlined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decades ago.
One of the fundamental requirements of the ESA is that decisions about protecting wildlife are based on the best available science. This sounds obvious, but in order for science to be credible, it must be independent, which means free of political or commercial interests.
Unfortunately, respect for independent science within wildlife management ranks is as endangered as the animals we try to protect. One of many examples includes the Department of Interior’s alarming decision in 2014 to declare gray wolves recovered nationwide because the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) claimed the wolves occupied most of the remaining suitable habitat in the U.S. In truth, nearly two-dozen states in the historic range were, and still are, vacant. The FWS declared them unsuitable on grounds that human tolerance for wolves was low there and that wolves would be poached by citizens or killed by government agents seeking to protect livestock interests. This is the same year we witnessed wolves returning to their native home of California where they had not been seen since 1924. If FWS policy had been implemented, California might not have seen this important and historic return.
The fact is that none of the available science supported the FWS claim, and what evidence there was actually showed that tolerance for wolves was even higher outside their current range.
According to the ESA, our federal wildlife managers are supposed to address threats that may push a species to extinction, not circumvent the threat by redefining “suitable habitat.” It is required to combat threats and recover listed species, as the ESA states, “across all or a significant portion of range.” (ESA 16 USC § 1531)
Instead, FWS pointed to a non-peer-reviewed analysis suggesting the northeastern U.S. was not gray wolf habitat because a new species had lived there. The criticism that followed eventually led to an independent scientific review process that “unanimously decided that the FWS’s earlier decisions were not well supported by the available science.”
Project Coyote Science Advisory Board members Adrian Treves, Jeremy Bruskotter, John Vucetich, and Michael Nelson co-authored this study refuting these assumptions, and there are more examples of FWS ignoring science, including the department’s recent delisting decisions about wolverines and grizzlies that not only omitted independent scientific review, but rejected the recommendations of agency biologists.
If we look at the history of decisions about carnivores under the ESA, we see similar disregard for the best available science. Since 2005, the FWS has lost nearly a dozen federal court cases trying to remove protections for wolves, grizzly bears, and wolverines. In each case, the courts sided with plaintiff’s claims that the Department of the Interior misinterpreted the ESA or did not follow the ESA mandate to base its decisions on the best scientific data available.
Which is why the recent Endangered Species Day was the perfect occasion for me to join with members of Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board in collaboration with the Union of Concerned Scientists, to compel Interior Secretary Jewell and Commerce Secretary Pritzker to enforce the ESA and serve the public trust by using the best available science. We submitted a petition with the signatures of nearly 1,000 US scientists and scholars, and our request was simple: respect the law and put the independent scientific community back in charge of determining the best available science.
All Americans can be proud of the cooperative vision that produced the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and protects the abundance of wildlife and beautiful landscapes that our federal agencies are charged to steward. Let’s not be the generation that allowed standards to slip so far that, for some species, it’s beyond recovery. When independent science is threatened, so are our keystone species, and the healthy ecosystems we all depend on to survive and thrive.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials have tentatively decided to transport 20-30 gray wolves to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan over the next three years to replenish a population that has nearly died out because of inbreeding and disease.
The National Park Service said Friday it will make a final decision in 30 days, after the public has had an opportunity to review a new environmental statement that endorses the restoration plan.
Wolves made their way to the Lake Superior island in the late 1940s. Since then, they have played a valuable role in keeping the moose population in check and have become a cherished symbol of the remote wilderness outpost.
But the wolves’ numbers have fallen drastically in recent years. Only two are believed to remain, posing a danger of moose overpopulation.
To his credit, President Donald Trump recently drew attention to the “horror show” that is elephant trophy hunting, adding in a tweet that he would be “very hard pressed” to see it otherwise. Never has that tawdry business been called out so bluntly, at such a high level, and we could use some similar candor in a matter closer to home – a trophy-hunting horror show soon to be staged in, of all places, Grand Canyon National Park.
It is the project of Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who has long sought to rid the park of bison. Their iconic appeal is lost on the congressman. And so, he is pleased to report, sport hunters will be “empowered” to go in and systematically slaughter the creatures.
The bison live near the North Rim, where, complains Gosar, they are “wreaking havoc.” They threaten, no less, “the wonder that is the Grand Canyon” and even its “longevity.” With his prodding, the National Park Service has decreed that a population it calculates at between 400 and 600 bison must be reduced to “200 or fewer,” meaning that as many as 400 could be culled.
The fact that the low end of the official population estimate approximates the number that might be killed, or that these expert wildlife managers can’t even survey the current total to within a third, is just one sign of a capricious plan crying out for public scrutiny.
Oddly enough, the Park Service itself has inadvertently given the bison their most convincing defense. Its “Initial Bison Herd Reduction Environmental Assessment”purports to show how intolerable their presence has become, but on close reading only reveals Gosar’s claim of “devastation” – “a bison problem that has reached borderline epidemic proportions” – as the nonsensical, trumped-up case that it is.
In the euphemistic parlance of the scheme, we learn that “reduction actions” are called for because of “soil disturbance” by the bison.
Apparently, that’s an inexcusable offense in the park these days, even though it is elsewhere considered a vital ecological function of this keystone species, and nobody was complaining at the Grand Canyon until sport hunters started lobbying for the cull.
The herd also stands accused of threatening “erosion potential.” The bison graze, drink water, and pass through streams, inviting further charges of causing “the potential for increasing impacts on vegetation” and “potential concerns about changes to local hydrology.”
“Potential damage” to archaeological sites is cited as yet another transgression, even as the report concedes there is no evidence that any buffalo has so much as stumbled into one of them, causing any actual damage.
“Potential benefits” likewise show the Park Service straining for a rationale to do an obviously cruel thing. You know they’re reaching when we’re informed that wiping out the herd will decrease “the potential for visitors slowing and/or stopping . . . to view bison resulting in potential vehicle-vehicle collisions.”
Have collisions become an actual hazard? Again, no.
And never mind that this particular example of a “benefit” merely reminds us that visitors love to see the buffalo that the Park Service wants to kill.
The sound of gunfire? Yeah, ignore that
On such vague and conjectural grounds, we are supposed to accept as unavoidable the miserable death of these beautiful creatures – whose presence at the Canyon, it becomes clear, is utterly benign, causing no harm to anyone who leaves them in peace.
Unmentioned, too, is that as hunting becomes the norm, surviving bison will increase their rate of reproduction, exactly the opposite of the intended result, although in passing we do learn that the “initial” culling will require three “reduction actions” a week.
This will involve helicopters, ATVs and snow machines for the chase, along with other alterations in “visitor experience” and the “acoustic environment” of what had been a wildlife sanctuary. Translation: Try to ignore the sound of gunfire as the North Rim of the park becomes a game farm for trophy hunters.
Gosar actually submitted a bill, the Grand Canyon Bison Management Act, just to make sure the volunteer hunters may haul off the “full bison” for display in trophy rooms. Hard to believe an act of Congress could be wasted to serve such a silly and squalid purpose, but the “stakeholders” insisted, so he obliged.
And who are they?
His office provides a list consisting exclusively of sport-hunting groups, as if no one else might have an interest in the matter.
The Park Service airily dwells on “values such as visitor experience and wilderness character” (which, of course, the bison are faulted for “potentially” ruining), but we would be wiser to think of our own values and our own character.
There are other ways to manage bison
A humble herd of 500 or so buffalo, in a country where some 50 million were annihilated, carries no burden of justifying its existence.
These creatures deserve better and we should expect better of ourselves, by managing them in ways that don’t leave blood trails, with a view to fertility control instead of lethal culling.
Consider a program carried out on Catalina Island, off the coast of California, once the unlikely habitat of 600 free-roaming buffalo. Its population stands today at 150, and is held there by an immunocontraceptive vaccine (porcine zona pellucinda, or PZP) administered by marksmen directing darts at the females. The vaccine indisputably works, and there is no reason it could not be employed at the Grand Canyon.
If relocation is in order for some of the herd, there are resourceful ways to accomplish that as well, as happened when the park’s wild burros were captured and transported to sanctuaries.
Among other groups, the Humane Society of the U.S. is prepared to take on the assignment, working with Arizona authorities and the Park Service. Their methods challenge the old “game-management” mindset of domination, violence as the answer to every problem, and rank exploitation dressed up as high science.
They offer a benevolent approach, inspired by respect and empathy, and who doubts that they better represent public opinion than the trophy hunters do?
Alas for the noble buffalo, all of their imagined offenses now bring imminent punishment. To spare the bison will take swift action by the media, others in Congress, our governor, and most importantly the public demanding to know why wildlife sanctuaries in law are not sanctuaries in practice.
Enough with the bogus studies, scandalous insider deals and volunteer butchers. Now let the real stakeholders speak up, extend our compassion to these grand and worthy creatures, and stop a bad idea dead in its tracks.
Matthew Scully, a Phoenix-area resident, is a former senior speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.
- Order aims to allow broader access to public lands to hunters, fishers
- Interior Department says Obama administration was too restrictive
Washington (CNN)Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order Friday morning aiming to expand access for hunters and fishers to public lands and monuments.
The National Park Service plans to thin a herd of bison in the Grand Canyon through roundups and by seeking volunteers who are physically fit and proficient with a gun to kill the animals that increasingly are damaging park resources.
Some bison would be shipped out of the area and others legally hunted on the adjacent forest. Within the Grand Canyon, shooters would be selected through a lottery to help bring the number of bison roaming the far northern reaches of the park to no more than 200 within three to five years.
About 600 of the animals now live in the region, and biologists say the bison numbers could hit 1,500 within 10 years if left uncontrolled.
The Grand Canyon is still working out details of the volunteer effort, but it’s taking cues from national parks in Colorado, the Dakotas and Wyoming that have used shooters to cut overabundant or diseased populations of elk. The Park Service gave final approval to the bison reduction plan this month.
Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club says she’s hopeful Grand Canyon will focus mostly on nonlethal removal.
The Grand Canyon bison are descendants of those introduced to northern Arizona in the early 1900s as part of a ranching operation to crossbreed them with cattle. The state of Arizona now owns them and has an annual draw for tags on the Kaibab National Forest. Nearly 1,500 people applied for one of 122 tags this year, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The bison have been moving in recent years within the Grand Canyon boundaries where open hunting is prohibited. Park officials say they’re trampling on vegetation and spoiling water resources. The reduction plan would allow volunteers working in a team with a Park Service employee to shoot bison using non-lead ammunition to protect endangered California condors that feed on gut piles.
Hunters cannot harvest more than one bison in their lifetime through the state hunt, making the volunteer effort intriguing, they say.
“I would go if I had a chance to retain a portion of the meat,” said Travis McClendon, a hunter in Cottonwood. “It definitely would be worth going, especially with a group.”
Grand Canyon is working with state wildlife officials and the Intertribal Buffalo Council to craft guidelines for roundups and volunteer shooters, who would search for bison in the open, said Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson.
Much of the work would be done on foot in elevations of 8,000 feet or higher between October and May when the road leading to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is closed. Snowmobiles and sleds would be used to remove the bison meat, and helicopters in rare instances, park officials said.
Carl Lutch, the terrestrial wildlife manager for Game and Fish in Flagstaff, said some models require volunteers to be capable of hiking eight miles a day, carrying a 60-pound pack and hitting a paper plate 200 yards away five times.
The head and hide of the bison would be given to tribes, or federal and state agencies.
Lutch said one scenario discussed is splitting the bison meat among volunteers, with each volunteer able to take the equivalent of meat from one full bison. Anything in excess of that would be given to tribes and charities, he said. A full-grown bull can have hundreds of pounds of meat.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota used volunteers in 2010 for elk reduction, selecting 240 people from thousands of applicants, said park spokeswoman Eileen Andes. Some quit before the week was over, she said.
“We had quite a bit of snow, so you’re not in a vehicle, you’re not on a horse,” she said. “You’re hiking through snow to shoot elk and haul them out. It was exceedingly strenuous.”
In April, President Trump signed a resolution, enabled by the Congressional Review Act and passed by Congress on a near party-line vote, that repealed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rule restricting particularly cruel and unsporting methods of killing grizzly bears, wolves, and other predators on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. There are now multiple indications that the Trump administration and some allies in Congress are gearing up to unwind a nearly identical rule, approved nearly two years ago, that restricts these appalling predator-killing practices on 20 million acres of National Park Service (NPS) lands in Alaska. Our humane community nationwide must ready itself to stop this second assault on a class of federal lands (national preserves) set aside specifically to benefit wildlife.
Today, the Sacramento Bee’s Stuart Leavenworth broke the story that Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) had obtained a leaked memo that appears to show that senior political appointees at the Department of the Interior have barred top officials at NPS from speaking out against a widely circulated draft bill in Congress – the SHARE Act – that includes a provision to repeal the parks rule. The bill, which will be assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources, contains a host of anti-wildlife provisions. Top officials at NPS reviewed the bill and objected to many provisions, and memorialized those objections in an internal memo. A senior Interior Department official sent back the memo to the NPS officials with cross-out markings on nearly all of the objections raised by the NPS. That helps explain why lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not heard a negative word from the NPS about this legislative package and its provisions that amount to an assault on the wildlife inhabiting Alaska’s national preserves.
Several weeks prior, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had signaled his desire to reopen the NPS predator control rule, with an eye toward changing and even gutting it. The rule passed with almost no dissent when NPS adopted it in October 2015.
In short, there is a double-barreled attack on the rule, and the administration seems to be locked and loaded on both strategies – one legislative and the other executive.
In March, the House voted 225 to 193 in favor of H.J. Resolution 69, authored by Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, to repeal the USFWS rule on predator killing. Those 225 members voted to overturn a federal rule – years in the works, and crafted by professional wildlife managers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – to stop some of the most appalling practices ever imagined in the contemporary era of wildlife management. Denning of wolf pups, killing hibernating bears, baiting grizzly bears, and trapping grizzly and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps and snares. It’s the stuff of wildlife snuff films.
Just weeks later, the Senate followed suit, passing S.J.R. 18 by a vote of 52 to 47. I was so proud of New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, himself an ardent sportsman, and Sens. Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., for deconstructing the phony arguments advanced by the backers of the measure. If they had been arguing the case in front of a jury, they would have carried every fair-minded juror considering the evidence and honoring a standard of decency. They eviscerated the phony states’ rights arguments advanced by their colleagues. Their false subsistence hunting arguments. Their inaccurate representations of the views of Alaskans.
President Trump then signed H.R. Res. 69/S.J.R. 18 and repealed the USFWS rule.
The USFWS rule was at particular risk because it had been adopted in 2016, and the Congressional Review Act allows Congress and the president to nullify recently adopted rules with simple majority votes in both chambers and no committee review of the measures. The nearly identical NPS rule came out a year earlier and the CRA doesn’t apply to such long-standing rules. In short, the Department of the Interior could weaken the rule by opening a new rulemaking process, or Congress could repeal it (albeit without the expedited review and also perhaps without a simple majority vote in the Senate).
Today’s reporting by the Sacramento Bee, and the work of PEER, have sent up a flare, warning the world that there is maneuvering to launch an unacceptable assault on wildlife on National Park Service lands. Hunting grizzly bears over bait, killing wolves in their dens, and other similarly unsporting practices have no place anywhere on North American lands, and least of all on refuges and preserves. We’ll need you to raise your voice and write to your lawmakers, urging them to block any serious consideration of the SHARE Act in its current form. And tell Secretary Zinke that’s there’s no honor and no sportsmanship in allowing these practices on national preserves.
It was the closest I’d ever come to a bear.
A buddy and I had just finished a day of paddling on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, way back in the summer of 2008.
On the way out of town, we slowed to a crawl to go around a few cars parked haphazardly on the road.
I thought it might have been an accident scene — but it was more like an accident waiting to happen.
The cars were hurriedly abandoned because their occupants were all outside on the pavement, edging toward the shoulder, eager to grab pictures of two bear cubs foraging in the ditch.
In no mood to be around when momma bear would eventually show up, we rolled up the windows and high-tailed it out of there before you could say boo.
You’ve probably read and heard of many more such irresponsible encounters over the years, the latest of which was reported last week in Banff National Park.
According to media reports, a Calgary-based wildlife photographer was left aghast as he witnessed 20 to 30 people standing too close to a grizzly, disregarding a request by a Parks official to disperse.
One particularly fearless visitor was recorded as he walked right up to the bear, within only a few metres of it, in apparent bid to snap a photo.
These people were clearly too close: Parks Canada advises visitors to stay at least 100 metres from such animals as bears, wolves and cougars.
Parks officials also expressed frustration last week after multiple instances of food being left unsecured at a concession stand at Lake Minnewanka in Banff, leading a bear to feed there.
“We spent a lot of time and effort last summer and this spring to make people know how to behave and we’re disappointed,” Parks Canada ecologist Jesse Whittington told Postmedia.
The long list of extraordinarily dumb interactions between humans and nature makes me question whether people understand what our national parks are for.
They are there to preserve and foster the wonders and beauty of our natural world.
People are meant to experience and appreciate those things from a distance.
Humans should be visitors to our parks in much more than the literal sense: Our natural spaces shouldn’t be any worse after we’ve gone through.
The already difficult act of balancing conservation with tourism has undoubtedly become more difficult for Parks Canada as an increasing number of Canadians are availing themselves of their national parks system.
Every park in our neck of the woods has seen growing annual attendance figures between 2011 and 2016.
There’s been double-digit growth at Elk Island (up 30%), Wood Buffalo (20%) and Waterton Lakes (16%).
More people are also going to Banff (up 8%), Kootenay (8%), Mount Revelstoke & Glacier (7%), Yoho (6%) and Jasper (5%).
Banff and Jasper continue to lead the way in sheer attendance numbers countrywide, with 3,894,332 and 2,266,072 respectively in 2015-16.
And with free entry to national parks this year to coincide with Canada 150 celebrations, those numbers are sure to remain healthy.
Sadly, the number of naughty people will likely be healthy, too.
Continued human misbehaviour bolsters the case of those who believe we should tighten access to our national parks.
Loss of access would be a shame, as seeing nature first-hand is a fantastic and unrivalled educational experience.
Of course, this only works if people are actually willing to learn.
And as the recent influx of stupidity shows, too many of us aren’t.
On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC