NPS Should Not Be Forced to Support Alaska’s War on Bears

A brown bear at Katmai.

A brown bear at Katmai. Photo © Kati Schmidt/NPCA

I like bears. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Alaska over 30 years ago. There is something about traveling in the wilderness with wild animals that are bigger than you that provides an edge to your outdoor experience. And I’ve seen my fair share of bears over the years… hundreds and hundreds of them fishing for salmon in Katmai, digging for ground squirrels in Gates of the Arctic or for razor clams in Lake Clark, climbing on a dead humpback whale that washed ashore in Glacier Bay, and eating berries in Wrangell-St. Elias.

So I was particularly irked when the Alaska Board of Game recently added shooting bears from airplanes to the state’s arsenal in its much larger war on both bears and wolves.

Unfortunately, that war has spilled over onto the 19 million acres managed by the National Park Service in Alaska. Wildlife agencies in all 50 states write the hunting regulations for all lands in their state, including those managed by the federal government. But when hunting regulations have a negative impact on national preserves, the Park Service can and should create its own rules to override the state. That’s the scenario we have here in Alaska.

The State of Alaska and the National Park Service have conflicting approaches to managing wildlife. The state’s Intensive Management strategy involves killing bears and wolves with the assumption that fewer predators mean more moose and caribou for human consumption. The National Park Service, on the other hand, is charged by Congress to maintain natural and healthy wildlife populations and NPS rules prohibit the manipulation of any wildlife population to benefit another harvested species. So the issue is not IF sport hunting is allowed on national preserve lands—it is. The issue is HOW you hunt.

In its desire to increase the numbers of moose and caribou, for example, the state has declared a quiet war on bears by authorizing, among other means, a hunting method called “spotlighting.” Imagine crawling into a bear den to shoot a hibernating Yogi or Smokey taking a winter’s nap. It’s legal in Alaska. The Game Board also authorizes killing cubs and mothers with cubs. There is nothing sportsmanlike in shooting bear cubs. Other objectionable hunting methods currently authorized include bear baiting and snaring, which is particularly egregious because it is non-selective. Any bear—young, old, male, female, grizzly, or black—can get caught in a snare. It is not a hunting method—it’s a killing method used solely for reducing bear populations.

While the National Park Service already chose to prohibit shooting bears from airplanes, our concern is with these other objectionable hunting methods that are still permissible.  For years, the National Park Service has been trying to cooperate with the state to exempt Park Service lands from these hunting methods, but to no avail. In fact, I have a list of 52 times in the past 10 years that the state has rejected Park Service requests to either change a regulation or exempt NPS from a regulation that was ultimately adopted. And I tried again at the January 2012 Board of Game meeting, but our proposals to exempt NPS lands from baiting, snaring, spotlighting, shooting cubs and sows with cubs, and even taking wolves when they are raising pups were all voted down. So much for state/federal cooperation.

Now it’s up to the Park Service to step up and write additional rules to prohibit these other objectionable hunting methods. And when they do, NPCA will be there to support them.

About the Author

Deputy Vice President of Regional Programs Jim Stratton

Jim Stratton is deputy vice president for NPCA's regional programs.

  • Jenn

    Protect the bears Alaska! Leave the National Parks as a refuge for these beautiful animals.

    • HyltonHiker

      This CRAP!!! needs to stop NOW!! I mean what do we have to do to protect these bears!!! Very unsportsman like to shoot bears and wolves from an airplane. You are all just a bunch of IDIOTS!!!!!

  • Beth A.

    This is history repeating itself. Does no one remember the stories of hunting in the 1800’s and early 1900’s? There were no bag limits, no rules. In PA, it was legal to shoot a hibernating bear or a roosting grouse. It was only after the PA deer population was nearly decimated, along with many other game species, that hunters realized their folly and rallied to conserve what they had left for future use – and thus the PA Game Commission was born.

    Has no one read or even heard of The Sand County Almanac? I can’t help but remember this excerpt, and fear that this is where Alaska might be headed if the state gets it’s way.

    “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
    * * *
    Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.”

    We see the effects of an absence of predators around the country today. In PA, the deer herds have grown so much that hunters alone cannot keep the population in check. They are over-browsing the forests and starving themselves. Where have the coyotes gone? Where are the Nittany lions? Gone, long ago, back when people hunted without limit and without sportsmanship.

    I truly hope the NPS will fight this and not allow rampant unsportsman-like hunting that manipulates a more favored species.

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