Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Bear Baiting and Spotlighting Don’t Belong in Our National Preserves

A grizzly bear at Denali National Park.

A grizzly bear at Denali National Park. Photo (c) Jerryway/Dreamstime.

I get a real sense of accomplishment when the Park Service takes action on an issue we’ve been pushing for years. In early April, the agency renewed temporary regulations to keep hunters from killing black bear cubs and sows with cubs with spotlights at their den sites in Gates of the Arctic and Denali National Preserves.  And new temporary regulations were adopted to disallow using bait to hunt brown bears at Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Yukon-Charley National Preserves in Alaska. This is great news for bears in our northernmost national preserves.

For those less familiar with bear hunting, “spotlighting” is a controversial practice that involves crawling into a bear’s den while it is hibernating, waking it by shining a light in its eyes, and shooting it. That is hardly sportsmanlike, and it’s not “hunting.” That’s killing.

Why, do you ask, does the Park Service have to take this action to renew its bans on these practices each year? Because Alaska allows spotlighting, baiting, and other objectionable hunting methods throughout the state. The Alaska Board of Game makes the rules for managing wildlife, and its main goal is to ensure that there are more than enough animals for human consumption—quite a different approach to managing wildlife populations than the Park Service takes. In order to ensure there is plenty of moose and caribou for hunters to kill, the state has a very active Intensive Management program aimed at reducing populations of wolves and bears. To increase the number of wolves and bears hunters are permitted to kill, the Alaska Board of Game has increasingly liberalized hunting methods to include baiting and spotlighting.

This treatment of bears—which serve an important ecological role at the top of the food chain—is in stark contrast to how Congress directs the Park Service to manage wildlife. The Park Service must specifically maintain natural and healthy populations, in Alaska and throughout the nation, and Park Service management policies make it explicitly clear that manipulating any wildlife population (like wolves and bears) to benefit a hunted species (like moose or caribou) is not allowed. Period. No exceptions.

From the perspective of the state of Alaska, this is simply a state’s rights issue. Officials here have argued long and hard that the Park Service has no authority to reject these hunting rules adopted by the Board of Game. NPCA and the Park Service have a very different opinion. The Park Service has all the authority in the world to reject state hunting rules that conflict with Park Service regulations and management objectives. It has been successfully tested in states all across the country.

As I’ve said before, the issue is not if sport hunting is allowed on national preserve lands—it is. The issue is how you hunt.

Now that the Park Service has again exercised its right to push back on the Board of Game’s hunting regulations, we are highly supportive of taking the all-important next step of making the Park Service position a permanent regulation so the agency doesn’t have to renew these rules every year. We’re hoping that’ll happen this spring—and based on our past advocacy on this issue, we know we have thousands of NPCA supporters around the country behind us as we urge the Park Service to do the right thing to protect these important and iconic animals.

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About the Author

Deputy Vice President of Regional Programs Jim Stratton

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