WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed a resolution Thursday night to repeal an Obama administration regulation limiting some hunting practices on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska.
The measure, sponsored by Alaska Rep. Don Young, faces a tight Senate schedule but faces a fair chance of eventually making it to President Donald Trump's desk.
The legislation — House Joint Resolution 69 — is a Congressional Review Act measure, a rarely-used action that allows Congress to repeal a federal regulation with simple majority votes. The regulation has to be recent, finalized in the last 60 legislative days. Given the light schedule in the latter half of an election year, Congress has the chance to repeal major regulations issued back to June 2016.
Young's bill would repeal a regulation finalized in August by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It applies only to federal refuges in Alaska. A similar rule issued by the National Park Service, also for Alaska, was completed too long ago to be repealed. The dispute between Alaska's federal workers and the state Department of Fish and Game managers centers around control of predators like wolves and bears.
The CRA law has only been used once since its enactment in 1996. Since such a bill still requires a presidential signature, rules are only really eligible during a change of administration, or if there is a veto-proof majority that wants to repeal a rule.
So far the House and Senate have sent three CRA repeal bills to the president. On Thursday, Trump signed his second — legislation to repeal the Interior Department's "Stream Protection Rule."
The House has passed three times as many so far, including Young's Alaska-focused regulatory rollback.
The bill passed by a mostly party-line vote of 225-193 on Thursday afternoon, after heated debate on the House floor.
In an interview Thursday, Young credited the Humane Society with convincing people that the regulation was more about protecting wolf pups than, as he sees it, about federal control.
Within the state, there is stark disagreement on the rules, and whether it is good practice to target predators, and who should have control over the practices on refuges.
Activists who oppose the rules say that the state's "predator control" policy allows unfair practices to take wolves, bears and other predators so that other game populations — like moose and caribou — are artificially inflated.
"Is running roughshod over public lands and targeting mother bears and wolves and their young on lands specifically set aside as wildlife refuges really a priority for legislators given the many challenges facing our country? Americans expect our national wildlife refuges to be managed for their conservation values for all wildlife, not just those species of particular interest to a few," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., argued fervently against the repeal law on the House floor Thursday. Tsongas is the wife of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, who co-sponsored the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
"Here we are, 37 years later, in Congress debating if that bipartisan law crafted by my late husband allows hunters to shoot bear cubs and wolf pups in their den on a national wildlife refuge," Tsongas said. "If my colleagues so desperately want to authorize a right to shoot bears from a helicopter in a wildlife refuge, I would be happy to recommend some video games," she said.
One representative after another accused Young of seeking an easier route to killing bear cubs and wolf pups, allowing bear baiting and killing animals in dens. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., read letters from Alaskans in Eagle River, Fairbanks and Palmer who argued that the law would allow "cruel and unsporting" hunting methods.
"There's no sport hunters going to be shooting cubs and sows" and "there's no one in the state that doesn't support my resolution," Young said on the House floor. "Yes, you've got some letters," he said, adding that if Alaskans aren't happy with his work, they can stop re-electing him.
Young noted that long ago, he was paid to kill wolves in their dens — by the federal government, when Alaska was still a territory.