Denali National Park and Preserve sign

The entrance sign for Denali National Park and Preserve features a relief carving of a caribou by Fairbanks artist Marianne Stolz. 

The National Park Service announced this week a final rule removing hunting and trapping prohibitions that have been in place since 2015 in national preserves in Alaska.

The rule allows Alaska residents to enter national preserves to engage in practices like using bait to hunt bears and the taking of wolves and coyotes during denning season, which are permitted under state law. 

The announcement Wednesday comes five years after the National Park Service announced new rules for the 10 national preserves in Alaska. The rules banned a number of state-legal predator hunting techniques.

At the time, the Park Service said the practices conflicted with the agency’s conservation mission.

According to a news release, the Park Service has “reconsidered its prior position in light of a review of the relevant authorities and of the associated impacts” and determined that its 2015 rule conflicted with federal and state laws that allow for hunting and trapping in national preserves.

“The 2015 harvest prohibitions were not required for conservation purposes, and removing them will not result in significant impacts to park resources nor the maintenance of healthy wildlife populations in national preserves,” the news release states. “The NPS retains the authority to close areas in national preserves to hunting under federal law where there is a conservation concern or for public safety, use and enjoyment.”

According to the news release, the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act established Alaska’s national preserves as distinct from national parks in the state. The preserves were intended to be Park Service lands that would remain open to hunting and trapping that’s managed by the state of Alaska, which the recent rule reaffirms. National parks in Alaska remain closed to all hunting, except for subsistence uses, by law.

“The amended rule will support the department’s interest in advancing wildlife conservation goals and objectives, and in ensuring the state of Alaska’s proper management of hunting and trapping in our national preserves, as specified in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act,” said Park Service Deputy Director David Vela said in the news release. “It will also more closely align hunting and trapping regulations with those established by the state of Alaska by providing more consistency with harvest regulations between federal and surrounding non-federal lands and waters.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan responded to the news by referring to the issue as “a matter of principle” and “a matter of states’ rights” and noted Alaska’s “proven, science-based wildlife management strategies.”

“In 2017, Congress sent a powerful message with the passage and enactment of H.J. Res. 69 – which overturned a similarly overreaching rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service – that Alaskans are not going to accept this attack on our unique game management authority, guaranteed and protected in both the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act,” he said in a news release. “Today is no different, and I thank the administration and the Department of Interior for once again working with Alaska, instead of against us.”

Likewise Victor Joseph, chief and chairman of Tanana Chiefs Conference, welcomed the news.

“The previous rule was implemented without adequate tribal consultation, in disregard to rural Alaska’s dependence on wild food resources,” Joseph said. “The previous limitations enacted in 2015 threatened our way of life and our centuries-long sustainable management practices. Tanana Chiefs Conference supports these revisions.”

The rule, titled “Sport Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves in Alaska,” will be published in the Federal Register next week. It can be found online by going to regulations.gov and searching for “1024-AE38.” The final rule will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.