By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Today, we are releasing chilling footage of Andrew and Owen Renner’s now infamous—and illegal—black bear trophy hunt in Alaska last April, so you can see what grisly fate awaits the state’s native carnivores if the U.S. government goes ahead with a proposal to roll back protections for these animals on federal lands. Unless we halt that plan, tens of thousands of animals will face the same grim fate as the three bears killed by the Renners.
The video starts out with the father-son duo on skis spotting a mother bear hibernating in a tree hollow on Esther Island, in Prince William Sound. It's apparent from the audio that the bear is aware of the impending danger and makes sounds that indicate her fear. The two pull out their guns and fire several shots into the hollow, killing the bear even as the shrieks of her baby cubs fill the air. The father, Andrew Renner, then shoots the two cubs at point blank range. Next, the men pull the bear’s limp body out of the den. They pause for a victorious and bloody high-five, and a photo with the son holding up the bear’s paw, before proceeding to carve the bear into pieces. Then they roll up the bear skin, stuff it into a plastic bag, and leave with the bloody remains of what was, just hours before, a beautiful animal hibernating in her den with her cubs.
Unknown to the Renners, their depravity was captured by an on-site camera put up as part of a study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service.
The video also shows that the men returned to the site a couple of days later to hide all evidence of their crime, stuffing the bear cubs’ bodies into a bag, disposing of a tracking collar placed on the mother bear as part of the study, and retrieving their spent bullet casings.
The explosive footage of the Renners’ misdeeds—obtained by the Humane Society of the United States under a public records request—offers a preview of what could happen to Alaska’s bears—and other wildlife—if a rule that allows cruel methods of hunting black bears and other carnivores on National Preserve lands in Alaska goes into effect. The rule seeks to roll back existing protections that prohibit hunting on national preserve lands using cruel methods, like taking black bears, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites, shooting brown bears over bait, taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season, shooting swimming caribou, shooting caribou from motorboats under power, shooting black bears over bait, and using dogs to hunt black bears.
The Renner case serves as a disturbing reminder of how closely the current administration has aligned itself with trophy hunters. Over the past two years, we have seen a consistent rollback of protections for Alaska’s wildlife, despite the poll data suggesting that most Alaskans—not to mention the rest of us—do not want their wildlife placed within the sights of trophy hunters. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule prohibiting similar types of hunting methods on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, but Congress and the president overturned the rule in February 2017. In 2015, the FWS issued a rule prohibiting these types of hunting methods in the Kenai National Wildlife refuge, but the agency is now planning to introduce a proposed rule that would repeal those protections, too.
For his crime, Andrew Renner received a five-month prison sentence. Both he and his son had their hunting licenses temporarily suspended, and had to forfeit personal property. But the only reason they were held accountable is because they committed their poaching act in an area where it was not permitted. This slaughter would have been perfectly legal had it happened on some other designated federal lands in Alaska, including National Wildlife Refuges. And if the proposed federal rule goes into effect, more of Alaska’s federal lands will become fair game for trophy hunters like the Renners.
The comment period on the federal rule has now closed, but the final rule has not yet been issued. It’s still not too late and we are asking that you sign our petition to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to leave previous protections in place. Let him know that you’re opposed to expanding this shameful and cruel activity to more federal lands. Alaska’s National Preserves belong to all Americans, and we need more protections on these lands for the extraordinary species who inhabit them.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.