05/21/2020 - Regulatory Rollback

Hunting in National Preserves and Wildlife Refuges in Alaska

by EELP Staff

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why It Matters

There are nearly 100 million acres of land in national wildlife refuges and national preserves in Alaska. Within the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service (NPS) oversees national preserves, and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) oversees national wildlife refuges. These lands are home to large, diverse ecosystems. Both agencies manage the lands to balance protection of habitat and species with public access and recreation.

Sport and subsistence hunting are generally allowed in refuges and preserves. Allowing certain practices used to target predators, such as bears and wolves, can affect the predator-prey balance in these areas. This in turn impacts the populations of species, like moose and caribou, that are hunted for food.

Current Status

May 20, 2020 The National Park Service announces that it is issuing a final rule repealing prohibitions on certain activities targeting bears and other predators in national preserves in Alaska. The announcement states that the final rule will be published in the Federal Register next week.

History  

Dec. 2, 1980 Congress passes the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Section 3201 of the Act establishes that national preserves in Alaska “shall be administered and managed…in the same manner as a national park…except that the taking of fish and wildlife for sport purposes and subsistence uses, and trapping shall be allowed in a national preserve under applicable State and Federal law and regulation.”

Oct. 23, 2015 NPS amends its regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska. The rule prohibits practices like using artificial light at black bear dens, using bait to hunt brown bears and black bears, and shooting swimming caribou from motorboats. NPS states that those practices intentionally target predators and may alter natural predator-prey dynamics and adversely affect public safety.

August 5, 2016 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes a final rule that prohibits similar hunting practices in national wildlife refuges in Alaska. For example, the rule prohibits baiting brown bears, trapping or snaring bears, taking bear cubs or sows, and taking wolves and coyotes during denning season.

Jan. 13, 2017 Alaska files a lawsuit challenging both the NPS and FWS final rules. Among other arguments, the state alleges that the rules infringe on the state’s right to manage fish and wildlife across public lands. Safari Club International (No. 3:17-cv-00014) and Alaska Professional Hunters Association (3:17-cv-00026-SLG) later file suit as well. The cases are consolidated as Alaska v. Interior, No. 3:17-cv-00013 (D. Alaska).

Trump Era  

March 2, 2017 Interior Secretary Zinke signs Secretarial Order 3347, which directs the agency to identify opportunities to expand access for and improve recreational hunting and fishing on public lands.

March 21, 2017 The Senate passes House Joint Resolution 69, which disapproves the FWS final rule using the Congressional Review Act. The House of Representatives already passed the bill on February 16, 2017.

April 3, 2017 The President signs the bill into law, meaning the FWS rule is no longer in effect.

April 20, 2017 The Center for Biological Diversity files suit in the US District Court for the District of Alaska challenging the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act and requesting that the court reinstate the FWS rule. Center for Biological Diversity v. Zinke, No. 3:17-cv-00091-JWS (D. Alaska). 

Sept. 15, 2017 Interior Secretary Zinke signs Secretarial Order 3356, which calls on Department of Interior offices and bureaus to modify regulations so that they are more aligned with state regulations. The order specifically mentions aligning predator management programs.

May 9, 2018 The Alaska District Court rejects the Center for Biological Diversity’s claims challenging the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act and dismisses the case. Center for Biological Diversity v. Zinke, No. 3:17-cv-00091-JWS (D. Alaska). The Center for Biological Diversity later appeals the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

May 22, 2018 NPS publishes a proposed rule to remove the 2015 regulations prohibiting predator hunting practices in national preserves in Alaska if those practices are otherwise allowed by state law.

June 12, 2018 The Alaska District Court suspends (stays) the lawsuit challenging the 2017 rule. This order follows a joint motion by both sides requesting the stay in response to the NPS proposed rule. Alaska v. Bernhardt, No. 3:17-cv-00013 (D. Alaska).

Dec. 30, 2019 The 9th Circuit dismisses the Center for Biological Diversity’s case challenging the Constitutional Review Act. Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, No. 18-35629 (9th Cir.).

May 20, 2020 NPS announces that it is issuing the final rule repealing predator control prohibitions in national preserves in Alaska. The announcement states that the final rule will be published in the Federal Register next week.