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Due to a new regulation by the National Park Service, bear baiting will again be prohibited in Alaska’s national reserves starting August 2nd.

The rule restores a ban on sport hunters imposed by the Obama administration in 2015 and then scheduled to be repealed by a Trump administration rule in 2020.

Bear baiting involves luring the animals with food so that they can be hunted more easily. Critics say this is unethical, but the hunters who practice it argue that they follow strict rules.

The National Park Service believes that bear hunting poses an unacceptable safety risk to both the animals that live in the preserves and the people who visit them. The danger is that bears become habituated to food provided by humans and are more likely to interact with people.

That was the biggest concern when the agency passed its new rule banning bear baiting, said Peter Christian, a spokesman for the National Park Service’s Alaska District.

“This is not something the Park Service can support from a public safety perspective,” he said. “We’re trying to protect people from bears and bears from people.”

The new rule stems from a 2020 lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s changes. That Trump-era policy never went into effect; U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled it violated National Park Service laws and policies and ordered the agency to reconsider it.

The process to replace the Trump-era rule began in February 2022, the Park Service said.

The new regulation only affects sport hunters. It has not affected their livelihood.

Sport and subsistence hunting is permitted on Alaska’s national reservations under the Alaska National Interest Conservation Act. However, sport hunting on reservations must be conducted in accordance with federal law.

In its new regulation, the Park Service declines to reinstate any Obama-era bans on controversial hunting practices, including killing black bear cubs and adult female bears with cubs, using artificial light in dens and killing wolves and coyotes, including their cubs, during hibernation.

The Park Service said it had declined to extend the new rule beyond the ban on bear baiting because some of the other bans under consideration are already prohibited under state law for sport hunters.

Brown bears frolic in the water at Katmai National Park on June 30, 2009. (Photo provided by National Park Service)
Brown bears frolic in the water at Katmai National Park and Preserve on June 30, 2009. (Photo provided by National Park Service)

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game does allow sport hunters to engage in some of these practices, but it does so sparingly, Christian said. “The state had the authority to authorize them, and when it does, it is limited to a very small area and a short period of time,” he said.

The state’s jurisdiction does not extend to subsistence hunting in national conservation areas. This type of hunting is under federal administration.

The National Park Service’s new regulation was criticized by parties on both sides.

Members of the groups that sued to overturn the Trump-era rule said the new rule falls far short of their demands because it allows several controversial hunting practices to continue on the reservations.

Banning bear baiting on conservation lands is important for visitor safety and ecological health. The rest of this rule is disappointing,” said Jim Adams of the National Parks Conservation Association in a statement. Adams is the association’s senior regional director for Alaska.

“The Park Service recognizes in its charter that many hunting practices are contrary to the agency’s mission, but allows them to continue,” Adams said.

Jon Jarvis, former director of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Conservation Area and former director of the National Park Service, also expressed criticism.

“The National Park Service has opposed the state’s unsportsmanlike predator hunting practices for many years,” Jarvis said in the National Parks Conservation Association statement. “These methods are in clear conflict with longstanding NPS policies and mandates to protect wildlife and are not appropriate on lands managed by the NPS for future generations. This rule is a major setback for protecting biodiversity on our national preserves in Alaska.”

On the other hand, Safari Club International, one of the hunting organizations that intervened in the 2020 litigation to defend the Trump-era rule, called the new rule unfair.

“We will likely go back to court over the new rule. A federal judge has already ruled that hunting with bait poses no safety or conservation risk. Despite this ruling, anti-hunting activists in the Park Service have pushed through a rule that is opposed by the state, Alaska Native communities, and Alaskan citizens. Although very few bears are likely to be killed with bait, SCI will fight this restriction to avoid ‘death by a thousand cuts’ – a popular strategy of anti-hunting activists,” the organization said on its website.

The state of Alaska, along with hunting groups, intervened to support the Trump-era rule and oppose the more comprehensive rule being considered by the Biden administration. In a March 24, 2023, letter to the National Park Service, Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the proposed rule usurps Alaska’s authority and harms individual Alaskans.

It has profound implications for the availability of national refuges for hunting and traditional cultural practices, as intended by Congress and which Alaskans have long relied on,” he said in the letter.

Gleason issued an order in May allowing the appeals to proceed, and some parties, including the state, have already taken advantage of that opportunity.

“The state, along with the other parties, has already filed an appeal of Judge Gleason’s decision with the Ninth Circuit,” Patty Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, said by email. “The state’s brief is currently due later this month. We are currently reviewing this new rule to determine how it will affect the ongoing appeal and whether to pursue further litigation.”

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