National Park Service right to curtail predator control on preserve lands

The phrase "federal overreach" has become such a strong part of Alaska's vernacular over the years that it's no surprise to hear it being used in response to the National Park Service's proposed wildlife regulations to end unbearable hunting methods on Alaska's national preserve lands. However, a little trip down memory lane shows that this recent bold and much-needed move by the Park Service is a long time coming.

I've attended numerous Alaska Board of Game meetings over the past 10 years and witnessed very specific discussions on actions such as spotlighting, baiting, and snaring bears, or allowing for extended seasons and bag limits on wolves, as a strategy to grow more moose and caribou. The Game Board can continue to say that such hunting methods were not adopted for predator control purposes -- just as they can say that the sky is green -- but the facts continue to speak for themselves.

For years, the state of Alaska and the Park Service successfully worked together, with the service adopting non-conflicting hunting regulations as their own. It is important to emphasize this, as the cries of federal overreach tend to drown out the facts. The key to this successful partnership is that the vast majority of the state's regulations did not conflict with Park Service management policies.

However, as the Game Board began to aggressively implement its intensive management strategies in the past 12 years to reduce wolf and bear populations in order to produce more moose and caribou, conflicts have emerged. The National Parks Conservation Association has documented more than 60 instances since 2001 where the Game Board ignored requests by the Park Service to exempt park lands from proposed regulations that conflict with park purposes and policies.

The fact that the Park Service recently took bold action by proposing its own set of regulation changes should not come as a surprise to the Game Board. The board has made it clear that if the Park Service finds that a regulation conflicts with park purposes, the service needs to take its own action to prohibit that conflicting state regulation on national preserve lands.

The ongoing issue has never been whether you can hunt in Alaska's national preserves. The congressional language that created national preserves, including those at Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai, and Lake Clark parks, explicitly states that sport hunting would be allowed. However, Park Service policies have always prohibited any action that would reduce predators for the purpose of increasing the numbers of other animals.

Hunting will continue on our national preserve lands, as it should, but some of the methods must change. Crawling into a sleeping bear's den to shoot it, or allowing bears to become more accustomed to human food through baiting stations that don't discriminate between adult bears, cubs, or sows with cubs, will no longer be allowed if the regulations are adopted. These changes do not interfere with hunting methods that have been used for years on the lands now managed by the Park Service.

No one disputes that intensive management is the authority for how the state manages its lands. We ask that the state demonstrate a reciprocal respect for the lands the Park Service manages. Predator control and national park lands just don't mix.

Jim Stratton is the deputy vice president of regional operations for the National Parks Conservation Association. He lives in Anchorage.

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