Feds ban several controversial hunting practices on preserves in Alaska

Driving a deeper wedge between state and federal game managers, the National Park Service on Friday banned a handful of controversial hunting practices on the 20 million acres of Alaska's national preserves where sport hunting is allowed.

Among the "state-authorized practices being prohibited (because they) conflict with National Park Service law" are:

• Taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the animals' denning season.

• Taking black bears with artificial light at den sites.

• Taking brown or black bears attracted to bait.

• Using dogs in black bear hunts. State law currently prohibits using dogs to hunt big game, with an exception for black bears. The park service will no longer honor this exception on national preserves.

• Shooting swimming caribou, a practice primarily used in the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska. Currently, state law prohibits taking big game that is swimming, but hunters may shoot a swimming caribou from a boat under power, and hunters can also shoot a caribou that has emerged from the water on the shoreline while the hunter is still in a moving boat. The new park service regulations will no longer recognize those exceptions on preserves.

The state immediately protested.

"These regulations will have a noticeable effect on the lives of Alaskans, particularly those Alaskans living a subsistence lifestyle," said Bruce Dale, director of Wildlife Conservation for the state. "The final rule implements yet another level of regulation that will reduce Alaskans' ability to provide food for their families and retain their culture and heritage.

"It's a further erosion of the state's right to manage its resources," he added. "There's no biological problem here. If they're banning things that barely ever happen, what's next?"

The new rules, published Friday, override state regulations, and state officials contend they subjugate the state's role, established under the Alaska National Interest Lands Act, as the managing authority of fish and wildlife on all Alaska lands.

But the Park Service countered that the new rules only cement temporary regulations that have been imposed annually for several years.

Some 70,000 comments were fielded by the Park Service, which did not offer a specific breakdown on how many were in favor or opposed.

"The vast majority were in favor of our position," said John Quinley, associate regional director of the National Park Service in Anchorage. Many of those, he acknowledged, came from the Lower 48.

"There were numerous groups in Alaska, some who rarely agree with each other, that were all opposed this," Dale added. "That's gotta tell you something." Among them were the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Alaska Federation of Natives and various subsistence resource councils.

"Our hope is that there'd be some recognition that we have a mandate from Congress and they have a different mandate from the state Legislature, and sometimes there's a difference in how we manage," Quinley said. "But at the end of the day, we're interested in a lot of the same things. The vast majority of state (wildlife) regulations are unaffected by this."

Several conservation groups applauded the action.

"Predator control and national park lands just don't mix," said Jim Stratton, Alaska regional council member of the National Parks Conservation Association. "Baiting bears, snaring bears, and crawling into a bear's den to shoot mama and baby bears on our national preserve lands in Alaska will no longer be allowed. Today is a great day for wolves and bears in Alaska."

The new rules go into effect Nov. 23. Dale said the state is considering its next move.

Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell(at)alaskadispatch.com

Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.