By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
In a massive victory for wildlife in Alaska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced last week that it was withdrawing its 2020 proposed rule that would have allowed trophy hunters on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to lure brown bears to their deaths with rotting piles of pastries and donuts. The proposed rule would have also allowed the use of steel-jawed leghold traps with serrated or spiked jaws, as well as permitting traps to be set within one mile of public roads. The requirement of periodic trap checks to ensure that a trapped animal is not left to suffer for weeks on end would have also been removed, if this rule hadn’t been defeated.
This victory for Alaska’s wildlife is due in part to our supporters who generated nearly 40,000 comments opposing the proposed rule—and suffice it to say your voices were heard! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited “extensive public comments submitted in opposition to the June 11, 2020, proposed rule and new information and scientific literature not previously considered,” as the reason for the withdrawal. We and our coalition partners, led by Trustees for Alaska, also helped lay the groundwork for this win through our multiple litigation victories upholding the existing ban on brown bear baiting in the refuge. Just last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear Alaska and Safari Club International’s appeal of our win in that case.
Habituating brown bears to smelly bait piles, which creates unacceptable public safety risks, and allowing target and non-target animals alike to suffer and die slow and painful deaths in traps, are not only inhumane and unsporting, but are entirely contrary to good science and the purpose of a refuge. Federal public lands belong to all citizens, but the rule clearly catered to a small subset of trophy hunters and trappers. This was a misguided effort to use predator control schemes to suppress vulnerable carnivore populations all to artificially boost the number of ungulates (like caribou and moose) available to hunt.
Withdrawing the proposed rule also provides important safety benefits. Bait piles can habituate bears to human scents, creating potentially dangerous situations at public places including trail heads, campgrounds and picnic areas. We’re thankful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized that a ban on brown bear baiting and the federal trapping permit requirements are absolutely necessary for the proper conservation and management of wildlife on the refuge.
Another fight to protect Alaska’s wildlife
Even as we celebrate this victory, we look toward other fights to better protect Alaska’s wildlife. In fact, the National Park Service is currently considering another proposed rule that would be a win for wild animals on its Alaska preserves: If adopted, this rule would prohibit cruel practices including killing hibernating mother black bears and their cubs in their dens with the aid of artificial lights, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers at their dens, shooting vulnerable caribou while they are swimming, using dogs to hunt black bears and using bait like dog food, pancake syrup, pastries and bacon grease to attract and subsequently kill brown and black bears. It wasn’t long ago that these practices were banned, but in an unfortunate decision the Trump administration overturned the ban.
Alaskans and the American public have shown us time and again where they stand on these issues. In fact, a brand-new poll shows that supermajorities oppose these egregious hunting practices by large margins: 69% oppose the killing of wolf and coyote families at their dens, 80% oppose killing hibernating bears with the aid of artificial light, 78% oppose baiting bears and 75% oppose using packs of dogs to chase down black bears. These results showcase the strong opposition Alaskans have towards these bad hunting practices in their state.
It’s time to reinstate protections for animals from these unsporting hunting methods in national parks in Alaska—and you can help make change. We’ve already generated more than 115,000 comments supporting this rule, and we’re confident that we can get even more. Comments on this proposed rule are due March 27, 2023.
You can tell the National Park Service how much you truly value wildlife, especially on our national preserves: Add your name and urge the National Park Services to ban cruel hunting methods on these lands for good.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.