By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
The Trump administration has given trophy hunters the green light to commit some of the worst sort of carnage on 20 million acres of Alaska’s pristinely beautiful national preserves.
Under a new rule finalized this week, trophy hunters can, starting next month, kill hibernating mother black bears and their cubs in their dens with the aid of artificial lights, shoot wolf and coyote pups and mothers at their dens, use bait like donuts and meat scraps to attract brown and black bears, shoot vulnerable caribou while they are swimming (including with the aid of motorboats), and use dogs to hunt black bears.
This is yet another dastardly move from an administration that, from the start, has carried out a no-holds-barred assault on America’s—and the world’s—most precious wildlife. From weakening protections for native American wildlife covered by the Endangered Species Act to allowing trophy hunters to import the trophies of endangered animals like rhinos and lions, the Department of the Interior, under Trump, has consistently played into the hands of trophy hunters and other corporate interests to dismantle the progress we’ve made for wildlife over decades.
A lot of this, including the National Park Service rule finalized this week, has involved reversing protections for wildlife put in place by the Obama administration.
And they’re not done. Just today, the Department of the Interior proposed another rule, again to overturn the prior administration’s rule that barred baiting of brown bears on two million acres of public lands in the state’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Hunting of brown bears over bait is an extreme practice and biologists have been raising alarms about the loss of brown bear populations in Alaska.
We already know what the carnage sanctioned by these rule changes will look like. Before the 2015 rule, thousands of bears and wolves were shot from the air, killed over bait barrels, clubbed or shot in their dens and hunted down with lights at night. Many of these cruel practices professed to reduce numbers of iconic predators in order to boost prey species for hunters, but science has shown that nature cannot be manipulated this way without terrible results.
We have already seen brown bear numbers across Alaska dwindle because of intensive management. State lands, where the egregious practices now permitted by the NPS rule are already allowed by the Alaska Board of Game, have seen sharp drops in wildlife populations. Alaska state officials should prefer their wildlife alive rather than dead because the tens of thousands of wildlife watchers who trek into the state each year put far more money into the state’s coffers than a handful of trophy hunters seeking to kill the animals do.
The Humane Society of the United States, along with a coalition of organizations, is currently in federal court defending the Obama-era NPS and Kenai rules. These changes are unlawful because Congress requires that the Department of the Interior conserve and protect wildlife in national preserves and national wildlife refuges. By opening season on the animals it’s supposed to protect just to appease a few trophy hunters, the agency—and this administration—have not only shown themselves to be extremely poor stewards of our public lands, they have let down a majority of Americans who would never sanction such cruelty against our native wildlife.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.