Help Save the Sandhill Crane
Every year, sandhill cranes fly thousands of miles from their breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic down to their winter nesting grounds in the Southwest. This is one of the greatest migrations on Earth, and it happens in our own backyards across the American West.
But this ancient migration is in peril due to wasteful, inefficient, and unsustainable water use that is drying up our rivers. The crisis is growing on the Rio Grande and especially in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, where the cranes could end their great migration on a depleted, dry river instead of the lush floodplain upon which they depend.
The Bosque del Apache Refuge was created to save wildlife like the iconic sandhill crane. However, as long as we continue living beyond our means, not even a refuge can save these birds if the lifeblood of the river runs dry.
The sandhill cranes depend on the Rio breathing life into the refuge, and the Rio depends on people like you to save it.
Today the Trump administration announced the start of a process to sell out the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for destructive oil and gas development.
This announcement is especially outrageous since it comes just one day before the 8th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an industrial disaster that left thousands of animals – from dolphins to birds to sea turtles – covered in oil, and huge swaths of water and beaches covered in chemicals and sludge.
Jim, when will they stop subjecting our precious wildlife and wild lands to such dangerous, irresponsible industrialization?
The Trump administration’s reckless dash to expedite drilling and desecrate the Arctic Refuge is unacceptable.
- 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.
Republicans in Congress, led by Alaska Rep. Don Young, have repealed Obama-era restrictions on hunting predators in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.
Restrictions still remain in national parks, but now Alaska’s state rules govern predator hunting in the refuges. These rules are designed to help hunters by reducing the number of predators that take the area’s game, such as deer, moose and caribou.
The Obama rule reversed by Congress gave the Fish and Wildlife Service ultimate control over hunting regulations on refuges and near refuges. The rule is one of many the new GOP Congress has reversed using the Congressional Review Act.
Tensions are high on both sides of this issue and the Center for Biological Diversity is challenging the legality of the repeal, saying the law requires that regulation of refuges benefit nature, not hunters.
“For many, it’s an argument over states’ rights, over who gets to be in charge,” says Erica Martinson, an Alaska Dispatch News reporter in Washington, DC. “On another, it’s about something they call ‘predator control.’”
The Board of Game in Alaska wants to allow, at certain times, the hunting of wolves and bears in order to maintain the population of moose, deer and caribou, so that people who want to hunt them for meat can do so, Martinson explains. The federal government, on the other hand, isn’t in favor of bolstering populations for hunting reasons.
Martinson says there has been “a lot of hyperbole on both sides” of this issue. “Overall, there hasn’t been much predator control activity on refuges, [though] it’s often near those areas. And the shooting of wolves from helicopters is pretty rare … All in all, 1,100 wolves are killed every year in Alaska, and about 12 percent of those come from predator control. So, [only] a small amount are affected by this, especially since this only impacts refuges and not state lands.”
Many Alaskans are in favor of the federal regulations and plenty of others are opposed to it, Martinson says. “Most often, these federal Fish and Wildlife regulations were set by federal workers in Alaska. It’s a decadeslong history of disagreement over this in the state.”
The Congressional Review Act allows a new Congress to overturn with a simple majority any rule that was made in the last six months of a previous administration, but it has only 60 legislative days to do so. Until the Trump administration, the CRA had only been used once since it was created in 1996. The current Congress has already used it 13 times. This makes the outcome of the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit hard to predict.
The center is arguing that the rule in question was created over many, many years and isn’t just the product of the last days of the Obama administration. A nearly identical rule for National Parks in Alaska was issued by the Park Service but has not been overturned, since it was issued over a year ago, Martinson points out, so the refuge rule was “certainly not something that was done at the last minute.”
In addition, the center is arguing that the CRA is a blunt instrument because anytime it is used to overturn something, nothing substantially similar can ever be passed again. “It means there’s no chance for the Fish and Wildlife Service to tweak this rule or do something similar,” Martinson says. “It means that they’ve lost all ability to write any kind of regulation about this [issue].”
Some of the Alaska refuges that may be affected by the rule’s repeal include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and others in Yukon and Kodiak. There are 16 refuges in Alaska, which take up about 77 million acres.
Martinson points out that, even with the rule change, the Alaska Board of Game still maintains significant rules for hunting all over Alaska.
“This doesn’t wipe out the existence of hunting rules entirely. People aren’t allowed to just hunt whatever, with these actions,” she explains. “It just sort of alters the lay of the land for how they decide each year’s hunting allotments — who can hunt where and what.”
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.”
An Obama-era rule prohibited the hunting of predator animals like bears and wolves in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.