New rule bans some predator control practices
Alaska’s native bears and wolves — at least those living in national wildlife refuges — may get a break from the federal predator control program, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week finalized new regulations that ban the controversial practice of culling carnivores through aerial gunning, baiting, trapping, and killing mother bears and cubs and wolves and pups in their dens.
The practices are legal under Alaska state law, and wildlife conservation advocates say they’re used to artificially inflate deer, moose and caribou populations for hunting. But the killing conflicts with the USFWS conservation mission on national wildlife refuges.
The agency acknowledged the controversy in a press release on the final rule:
“In response to public interest and concern about predator harvest on national wildlife refuges across Alaska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced a final rule to clarify that predator control is not allowed on national wildlife refuges in the state unless based on sound science and in response to a conservation concern or is necessary to meet refuge purposes, federal laws or Service policy. In addition, the rule defines the process that will be used for considering predator control, prohibits certain methods and means for non-subsistence harvest of predators, and updates the procedures for closing an area or restricting an activity on refuges in Alaska.”
According to Defenders of Wildlife, the new regulation means that the refuges will be managed in accordance with fundamental federal laws to conserve species at their natural level of diversity, maintaining the biological integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
“Alaska’s predator control measures fly in the face of science-based wildlife management, throwing ecosystems out of balance and impacting wildlife sustainability throughout the region,” said Defenders of Wildlife CEO and president, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “Federally protected areas like national wildlife refuges are essential to ensure the ecological vitality of our remaining wildlands, and should not be compromised to accommodate misguided state policies.”
USFWS director Dan Ashe said his agency is still committed to providing balanced opportunities for sport and subsistence hunting on wildlife refuges in Alaska.
“Consistent with existing law and agency policy, sustainable harvest of fish and wildlife, including predators, remains a priority public use on national wildlife refuges in Alaska,” Ashe said in a statement.
“Whenever possible, we prefer to defer to the state of Alaska on regulation of general hunting and trapping of wildlife on national wildlife refuges unless by doing so we are out of compliance with federal law and policy,” he continued. “This regulation ensures we comply with our mandates and obligations.”
Conservation advocates say the new rule is threatened by riders to an Interior spending bill in Congress that could block the new rule.