New federal hunting regulations are not good policy

A Juneau Empire file photo, a brown bear walks through Pack Creek on Admiralty Island, seen from the observation tower. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration have proposed eliminating National Park Service rules that prohibit sport hunters from using certain extreme hunting methods like baiting brown bears and shooting wolf and coyote pups in dens on National preserve lands in Alaska. It’s a terrible idea for two reasons.

 

First, as a licensed resident hunter for over 50 years, I’m committed to supporting reasonable sport and subsistence hunting, but only if it’s done responsibly and ethically. The way we treat animals as hunters or non-hunters says a great deal about who we are as human beings. Giving animals a fair chance in the pursuit, and not hunting them when they are most vulnerable are hallmarks of the best of the American hunting tradition.

Allowing practices like baiting brown bears, shooting wolf and coyote pups during denning season, shooting black bear cubs and mothers with cubs, using dogs to hunt black bears, and shooting swimming caribou from motorboats is a spiteful and embarrassing attack on fair-chase and ethical sport hunting practices in Alaska. It should be condemned by all responsible hunters.

Second, National Park Preserves were established for the use and enjoyment of all Americans. When these areas were created in the early 1980s, general sport and subsistence hunting and trapping were allowed in the preserve portions of these national parks, but with reasonable restrictions and with the overall goal of maintaining natural and balanced wildlife populations. Practices that amounted to predator control — killing one species to benefit another — were never part of the intent of this legislation. And that is clearly what the current proposed rule changes seek to impose. It is more than disingenuous to say otherwise.

The Secretary of the Interior, in his statement justifying the rule change, said the proposal would create new hunting opportunities. For who? People who want to kill wolf cubs in dens in a national preserve for sport? This is a back-door form of predator control, and it is not OK on the national preserve portions of the nation’s national parks, where the mission is to protect a small part of the world to pass on to our children and children’s children.

The Secretary also stated that the rule change would meet the goal of making federal regulations more consistent with state regulations. Since when does administrative convenience justify bad public policy? A further concern, dismissed by the Secretary, is that baiting brown bears creates safety risks by conditioning them to human food. Alaska makes it a criminal offense to feed wildlife. Does the Secretary really believe that baiting bears with human food is any different?

As far as the new rules being a benefit to subsistence hunting, most of the hunting methods that would be allowed under the rules are not ones that Alaska Natives use. State regulations already authorize taking swimming caribou from boats in specific game management units in the Arctic (all on state lands), with the express purpose of recognizing Native subsistence traditions. Additional areas could be added if necessary, but there has been no widespread demand to do that. In addition, federal subsistence rules generally allow the subsistence practices in question — like brown bear baiting and killing black bears in dens — but don’t allow people from Anchorage to fly out to national preserves to do them for sport.

Former governor and master big game guide Jay Hammond, who first appointed me to the Alaska Board of Game, once said: “I fear that we are coming to a point where the hunted may be more honorable than the hunter.”

I don’t know if Hammond’s prophecy has come true, but if the troubling proposals are adopted, there is clear evidence of it.


• Joel Bennett of Juneau was a member of the Alaska Board of Game from 1977 to 1990.


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