These Iconic Animals Could Again Be Hunted in Alaska's Refuges

Congress has voted to overturn an Obama-era rule prohibiting the hunting of bears, wolves, and other predators in Alaska's wildlife refuges.

Sprawling over 77 million acres, Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges are peppered with iconic animals, from grizzly bears and black bears to wolves and coyotes. But these predators, which have enjoyed increased protections since this past summer, could once again be hunted using controversial methods such as trapping and baiting.

A measure passed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday would abolish a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule enacted in August that largely banned hunting in Alaska’s wildlife refuges, which stretch from the remote Arctic in the north to the Aleutian Islands extending far to the west. The resolution previously cleared the House of Representatives and now needs only President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.

The about-to-be-overturned rule had banned the killing of mother black bears (pictured) and mother grizzly bears with their cubs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

In the past Alaska has allowed the killing of wolves and wolf pups in their dens and the hunting of wolves from aeroplanes. Animal advocates worry that these practices may return with the repeal of this rule.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Coyotes often bear the brunt of predator control practices across the United States. The rule had prohibited hunting of coyotes and wolves during denning season when pups are born.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Though not mentioned specifically in the overturned rule, wolverines are another carnivore species that potentially face more hunting. There has long been a call to list them as an endangered species.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

The state of Alaska argues that the hunting of predators to control their populations is necessary to preserve caribou (pictured), moose, and deer.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Many Alaskans hunt deer, caribou, and moose (pictured) for meat. The state of Alaska and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have disagreed over whether moose and other grazing animals need more protection from carnivores.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

The Obama-era rule specifically prohibits hunting for predator control, which refers to killing predators in order to protect another species. Wolves, coyotes and other meat eaters feed on ungulates such as deer and moose, which many Alaskans rely on for food. In making its rule, Fish and Wildlife Service argued that Alaska law had erred in prioritising the population of these ungulates by allowing hunters to kill too many of their predators.

If passed, the measure would open the door to aggressive hunting practices previously allowed in Alaska, such as shooting bears from aeroplanes, killing wolves and wolf pups in their dens, and hunting mother bears accompanied by their cubs.

“Over the past several years, the Alaska Board of Game has unleashed a withering attack on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America’s long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting,” said former U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe in a blog post last year.

Alaskans, however, consider this a states’ rights issue. During her testimony in favour of the measure, Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, called the rule “bad for Alaska, bad for hunters, bad for our native peoples, bad for America,” according to The Huffington Post.

Animal welfare advocates have condemned the measure. “This lethal legislation will permit the use of barbaric devices like leg-hold traps, which can leave animals struggling and suffering for days, and neck snares that slowly strangle entangled wildlife,” said Jeff Flocken, the regional director for the North American branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a statement. “To call these practices cruel is a vast understatement.”

Header Image: With the repeal of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule protecting bears and other carnivores in Alaska refuges, the state could again begin to allow hunters to attract grizzly bears with bait, a practice some consider to violate the sporting ethos of “fair chase.” PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

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