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Vincent-Lang: Pre-empted Alaska hunting regulations are not 'predator control'

In his Sept. 10 commentary, Joel Hard of the National Park Service wrote that certain Alaska hunting practices were not those he learned growing up in Southeast Alaska. While I appreciate Mr. Hard's personal hunting ethics, I do not believe the National Park Service should insert such opinions and beliefs into federal regulations.

Unlike what Mr. Hard stated, such infusion of personal hunting preferences and ethics into federal regulations is certainly not what Congress anticipated when passing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Instead, Congress envisioned Alaskans being able to continue to hunt practicing their traditional methods and means, which are the very allowances the National Park Service is proposing to preempt in Alaska.

The regulations being preempted by the Park Service were adopted by the Alaska Board of Game in response to local (mostly subsistence) hunters' requests to allow their traditional practices to occur. The professionals at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game did not feel it was our role to judge the ethics of these practices. While individual biologists within the department may not have personally agreed with the proposals, leadership did not feel it was our mandate to insert personal hunting ethics into the wildlife management or regulatory process.

Instead, the department presented information that showed that the proposals, if adopted, would not jeopardize sustained yield. And to date they have not. We are deeply concerned with the apparent desire of the Park Service to take action based on the personal views and ethics of individual park superintendents. This will unjustly impact Alaska hunters and their traditional hunting practices.

In his commentary, Mr. Hard also insinuates that Alaska adopted these proposals as predator control measures. This is simply not true. Alaska does not practice any predation control on National Park Service lands in Alaska. As we have communicated to the Park Service numerous times in both oral and written comments, the proposals under debate were not enacted as predator control measures. Instead, they were enacted to allow surplus yield to be harvested by hunters using methods they have traditionally employed.

For example, the take of bears using light in dens was requested by local Native groups to recognize a traditional practice. It was not done, nor could it be effective, as a predator control method. To insinuate such is plain wrong and simply an attempt to sway public opinion against Alaska's successful predator control programs.

Mr. Hard also fails to explain how year-round coyote seasons are to be viewed as unethical in Alaska, yet are allowed in other areas managed by the National Park Service in the Lower 48. In fact, not only can hunters take coyotes year-round in these Park Service-administered lands and areas, but they can also use spotlights to hunt them. One can easily understand the confusion such inconsistencies cause. It also points to the problem of individual park superintendents deciding what is ethical in "their" parks and preserves.

Another rule the Park Service is proposing to preempt is an allowance for state subsistence hunters to take caribou while swimming, yet allowing this same practice to occur under federal regulations. It is implied that this practice is unethical and inconsistent with the "high public value and integrity of the National Park System." Yet this is a traditional practice recognized by both the state and federal boards. The only effect of this preemption is that Alaska Natives who have been displaced from rural Alaska can no longer practice their traditional harvest means when they travel back to their lands. Again, these practices do not threaten sustained yield.

Most alarming, however, is what Mr. Hard failed to mention in his opinion piece. Not only is the Park Service infusing the personal values of a few into park management in Alaska, it is proposing revisions to the process that will provide additional discretionary authority to the Park Service. These changes will make it easier for the Park Service to unilaterally change regulations by reducing opportunities for public input, such as removing the requirement to consult with affected user groups when closing or restricting the take of fish and wildlife. This is not how the process was envisioned by the framers of ANILCA and should concern us all.

The proposed regulations are out for public review through Dec 3. While I disagree with many of Mr. Hard's comments, I do agree with his recommendation encouraging you to take part in the discussion. We cannot allow the values and opinions of Park Service employees to reduce the abilities of Alaskans to hunt using their traditional practices.

Doug Vincent-Lang is the director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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