FAIRBANKS — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to ban brown bear baiting and a series of other Alaska-legal predator hunting practices from lands the agency manages in Alaska.
Proposed regulations published Friday in the Federal Register would change hunting and trapping rules for national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The network of 16 refuges constitutes almost 77 million acres in Alaska, an area the size of the state of New Mexico.
The proposed rules are similar but not identical to hunting and trapping restrictions that the National Park Service finalized in October for its 20 million-acre national preserves system in Alaska.
The proposal, which is out for public comment, includes bans on brown bear baiting, killing wolves and coyotes during the denning season and targeting bears with snares or traps. Unlike the National Park Service rules, the refuge rules don’t prohibit hunting black bears over bait.
The proposed rule would not affect subsistence uses of fish and wildlife, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service statement in the Federal Register.
Usually national refuges follow the hunting and fishing regulations of the state they are located in, but the Fish and Wildlife Service argued its conservation mission conflicts with Alaska’s predator control policies. The agency is supposed to “conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity,” the agency stated in its draft regulations.
Alaska’s wildlife managers have a slightly different mission.
Under Alaska’s 1994 Intensive Management Law, the state Board of Game is expected to maintain populations of the state’s big meaty ungulates — deer, caribou and moose.
If key populations of the main land animals Alaskans use for food decline, the board is expected to take actions such as liberalizing the rules for hunting the bears, wolves and coyotes that prey on the deer, caribou and moose.
“We would prohibit predator control on refuges in Alaska, unless it is determined necessary to meet refuge purposes,” the proposed Fish and Wildlife Service regulations state. “Demands for more wildlife for human harvest cannot be the sole or primary basis for (predator) control.”
The proposal came under immediate attack by the administration of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker as well as Alaska’s two U.S. senators.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the proposed rule conflicts with the management authority granted to the state under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. That act created numerous federal conservation areas in the state.
“The agency claims this is an effort to bring clarity to a controversial issue, but in reality, it is a takeover of Alaska’s fish and wildlife management rights,” Murkowski said in a statement issued Friday.
The state of Alaska and the federal government have a long history of fighting over management of the large amount of federal lands in the state.
“It continually surprises me how little regard the federal government has for our state and its people,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, Republican, said in a written statement. “We in Alaska understand the land. We drink its water. We hunt and fish and trap on it. We live on it and we, not the federal government, are best able to decide how to manage it.
“Further, I’m extremely troubled that the USFWS is trying to change policy without going through Congress,” he said. “These regulations are not based on any conservation need but are just one more example of the federal government trying to restrict Alaskans’ way of life.”
A news release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the regulations “would usurp the state’s authority” to manage fish and wildlife on the refuges.
Gov. Bill Walker plans to ask for an extended public comment period, 121 days instead of 60 days, according to the news release.
The state news release also quoted the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents fish and wildlife agencies in all 50 states. The national organization’s government affairs director, Jen Mock Schaeffer, said he is concerned that the Fish and Wildlife Service might later apply these rules to refuges outside of Alaska.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a series of open houses about the regulations, including one on Feb. 10 in Fairbanks.
To see a copy of the proposed rule go to 1.usa.gov/1TKz7dM.
Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.