By Nicole Rivard
At a public hearing for proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) predator hunting restrictions in refuges in Alaska on Feb. 18, author Marybeth Holleman found herself in an unusual position.
“I think it was the first time in my 30 years in Alaska that I’ve been able to give testimony that actually supported what an agency was proposing to do. Given all the years of protesting state and federal government plans to harm wildlife and wild lands, it sure was nice,” Holleman said via e-mail from her home in in Anchorage, in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains.
Holleman is author of The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost, co-author of Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal and co-editor ofCrosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment (www.marybethholleman.com).
With the Jan. 8 proposed regulations, the USFWS is trying to halt aggressive predator control techniques on wildlife refuges in Alaska, such as Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Specifically the rules would ban hunting techniques including brown bear hunting over bait and hunting wolves and coyotes during the denning season. Such hunts violate the agency’s conservation mission by deliberately targeting predators in order to boost the output of large game animal like deer, caribou and moose for human consumption, according to the text of the proposed rule. All the federal refuges in Alaska comprise an area of federal land that’s larger than Washington State.
“I support the regulations entirely,” Holleman said. “Natural diversity is part of the USFWS’ legally-binding mandate for these wildlife refuges, and that natural diversity is exactly what predator control seeks to undo. I am so sick and tired of the state ‘managing’ our wildlife for a handful of people who want to kill the very animals that most of us just want to see. Many of us Alaskans are so very relieved that the federal government is finally standing up to these awful state methods and means of killing wildlife.”
Holleman said she and other animal advocates would like the agency to add two things to its proposed rules. They would like black bear baiting on the list of what’s no longer allowed. Holleman points out that it’s not only black bears that are attracted to these bait stations, with their piles of donuts and other junk food. It also draws brown bears, wolves, coyotes and many other animals—which these ‘hunters’ then might kill.
She gave an example that occurred last spring at Denali National Park, when two wolves were lured to a black bear bait station just outside the park boundary and a sport hunter shot them. One of these wolves was the pregnant alpha female of one of the most frequently seen wolf family groups in the park. “With her death, the entire wolf family group disintegrated, and only a few were left,” Holleman said. “So, these black bear bait stations must be banished from our national wildlife refuges.”
They also would like the rules to include a regulation that would prevent any federal Pittman-Robertson funds (what’s called the Wildlife Restoration Funds) from being used for the state’s predator control program. Holleman said right now, the state gets much of its wildlife management money from this federal fund and is using it for predator control.
Holleman is optimistic that the regulations will pass. Currently there’s a public comment period, ending March 8, but likely to be extended until April 8, so she is encouraging people from all over America to submit comments supporting the proposed regulations.
“These are national wildlife refuges and so every single American has equal say in how they are managed,” Holleman said.
Holleman is not concerned about pending legislation (an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015) introduced last month by Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, that if passed into law, would specifically prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing the new regulations.
“It may well pass the Senate and the House, given their makeup right now, but Obama would veto it…unless it’s attached to some bill that makes that difficult. So, people should also contact their U.S. legislators and ask them to please not vote for Sullivan’s bill,” Holleman said.
Ultimately, Holleman believes USFWS is taking an important, necessary and long overdue step of putting up some boundaries on the state’s wildly out-of-control wildlife ‘management.’”
“Alaska state wildlife management simply doesn’t represent the majority of Alaskans,” she said. “Most of us are ‘non-consumptive’ users and do not support the state’s Intensive Management program. However, we do not have a seat at the table. Not even one member of the Alaska Board of Game shoots only with a camera.”
You may submit comments to USFWS:
Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal by clicking here. In the Search box, enter FWS–R7–NWRS–2014–0005, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then click on the Search button. On the resulting page, you may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R7–NWRS–2014–0005; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
To see the schedule for other public hearings, click here.