FAIRBANKS -- Contrary to what state hunting regulations say, hunters won't be allowed to bait grizzly bears in part of Denali National Park and Preserve next spring.
At least not if the National Park Service has anything to say about it.
Responding to changes in state hunting regulations that would make it legal to bait grizzly bears in three different national preserves in the Interior starting next spring the National Park Service is seeking to change those regulations -- as well as others -- to make it illegal on federal land. The three preserves are Denali National Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
The Park Service also is proposing to shorten the hunting season for wolves and coyotes that the state extended in those preserves, as well as six other preserves in Alaska. In addition, the Park Service is proposing to renew restrictions it adopted last year that prohibit using artificial light to take black bears at dens and taking black bear cubs and sows with cubs.
To that end, the Park Service will hold public hearings in Bettles, Denali Park and Eagle in the next two weeks to discuss the proposed restrictions with local communities. The first meeting is 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali Park. There will be a meeting at the Eagle School on Dec. 18 and at the ranger station in Bettles on Dec. 20.
The hearings are the first step toward including the restrictions in the superintendent's compendium for each preserve. The compendiums are an annual compilation of temporary closures and restrictions in preserves.
"The state regulations we feel are not appropriate for the mandates we have for protecting natural and healthy wildlife populations in the preserve," said Kris Fister, spokeswoman for Denali National Park and Preserve.
The state game board in March passed a regulation that allows brown bears to be killed at bait stations in three different game management units in the Interior -- 12, 20C and 20E. The 1.3 million-acre Denali National Preserve is in game management unit 20C.
The last thing the Park Service wants is food-conditioned grizzly bears roaming around the park, Fister said.
"Food-conditioned bears are a lot more likely to become problem animals," she said. "Allowing hunters to bait brown bears certainly could increase the likelihood that bears would look at people as a source of food."
Greg Dudgeon, superintendent at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in unit 20E agreed.
"Our sense is the idea of habituating bears to food sources that are human sourced is not a good idea in any National Park Service unit," he said, "especially when we have hiking trails and public use cabins in the preserve."
The Park Service also is concerned about "the potential impact to the natural abundance, behavior, distribution and ecological integrity of brown bear populations" in the park, the agency stated in a press release.
The Park Service is proposing to close the hunting season for wolves and coyotes on April 30 rather than adhere to the new state regulations that will keep the season open through May 31.
"The NPS is proposing to prohibit the take between May 1 and Aug. 9 because it is the period when wolves and coyotes are denning and raising offspring and their pelts have little trophy or economic value," the Park Service said.
Dudgeon said the idea of taking animals while they are raising pups or when their pelts aren't in good shape "isn't consistent with the law and policy of how we manage wildlife in national parks."
After considering public comments, the Park Service may include hunting restrictions in the draft compendium, which will be released on Jan. 15. A 30-day public comment period will be held for the draft compendium, with a final version expected to go into effect on April 1.
The text of all compendiums will be posted on the National Park Service's website.
The hearings will be held:
• Denali National Preserve, 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Murie Science and Learning Center
• Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, 5-7 p.m. Dec. 18, Eagle School
• Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, 5-7 p.m. Dec. 20, Betttles ranger station
• Wrangell St. Elias National Preserve, 4-5:30 p.m. Jan. 8, Slana Community Corporation Building, 7-9 p.m. Tok School
By TIM MOWRY
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner