Alaska predator control methods conflict with national preserve values

Shooting wolves and coyotes when they are at the den with young pups. Using artificial light to take black bears and their cubs in dens. Using food like stale bread and bacon grease to attract grizzly bears and then shoot them.

These are not the Alaska hunting practices I learned growing up in Southeast Alaska, and they weren't the sport-hunting practices that Congress anticipated some 35 years ago as it debated the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Today, those practices are legal in much of Alaska. The state and its Board of Game use these and other means to reduce the numbers of bears, wolves and coyotes to boost the populations of moose and caribou. In doing so, they are following the laws passed by the Alaska Legislature.

National preserves in Alaska are managed by the National Park Service in the same manner as national parks, except that sport-hunting is legal in them. State regulations apply in national preserves, except where there is a conflict with federal law, regulation and policy. The state hunting rules, which have significantly liberalized predator seasons and means, pose such a conflict.

This week, the National Park Service proposed federal regulations that include a prohibition of the three hunting practices noted above in Alaska's 10 national preserves. This action came after several years of discussion with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other state officials. It came after repeated requests to the Board of Game to exempt national preserves from liberalized predator hunting efforts. And it follows multiple years of implementing temporary federal restrictions on these practices.

The National Park Service protects and manages the preserves, parks and monuments, as Congress directed in 1970, "in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System." Values embrace protecting natural predator/prey dynamics as well as natural ecosystems and processes, including the natural abundance, diversity, distribution, and behavior of wildlife.

These values are not more important than the state's legal responsibility as defined by the Legislature. Both are important, and state agencies and NPS both must meet their legal mandates in ways that cause the least confusion for hunters and other users. If the proposed federal regulations are implemented, the vast majority of sport-hunting seasons, bag limits, methods and means will continue to be set by the Board of Game. Subsistence hunting under Title VIII of ANILCA will not be restricted by the proposed regulations.

These proposed regulations are out for public comment through Dec. 3. Links to the regulations and information on how to comment are available online at www.nps.gov/akso/management/regulations.cfm.


I encourage you to take part in the discussion.

Joel Hard is the deputy regional director for the National Park Service in Alaska. He grew up in Southeast Alaska, and worked for more than 20 years as an Alaska State Trooper before joining the NPS in 2003.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com