NPS, state divided on sport hunting rules

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a state commission tasked with keeping an eye on federal land regulations are both displeased with the National Park Service’s recently released “Final Rule for Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves in Alaska,” saying that the rule preempts state authority and restricts sustainable harvest.

The rules, the NPS stated in a press release, maintain sport hunting but “prohibit manipulating native predator populations, typically bears and wolves, to increase numbers of harvested species, such as caribou and moose” and keep Alaska’s national preserves consistent with the agency’s rules.

The new rules, which apply to NPS preserves (the only one in Southeast Alaska is Glacier Bay, of which the area around Dry Bay is a preserve) stop people from taking coyotes and wolves during the season the animals are denning; prohibit using bait to take brown and black bears; prohibit the use of artificial light to take black bears at den sites; prohibit people from using dogs to hunt black bears (a state exemption allows it, though the state doesn’t allow it for other big game species); and prohibit people from shooting big game from boats with engines turned on, or from boats while the animal is swimming.

About 20 million acres in Alaska are national preserves and managed by the NPS, the agency stated.

The National Park Service sent out a release dated Oct. 23 that said the rules were finalized following “a robust public process” that included 26 public meetings across Alaska, 70,000 comments and three petitions.

“Sport hunting in national preserves continues to be primarily regulated by the State of Alaska,” the NPS release stated. “The state-authorized practices being prohibited conflict with National Park Service law and policy.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation wrote in an Oct. 23 release that the state is “concerned” and called the regulations “restrictive.”

“The new federal restrictions … override state regulations governing practices of longstanding importance to rural Alaskans, and bypass the state’s role under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act as manager for fish and wildlife on all lands in Alaska,” the release said.

The Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, a commission under the Department of Natural Resources that is tasked with “identifying and reducing potential negative impacts on Alaska and its citizens from federal actions on any of the 239 million acres of federal land in the state,” wrote in an Oct. 26 release that the rule “harshly restricts the ability of Alaskans to feed themselves through responsible and sustainable harvest.” The rule, they said, is “wholly inconsistent with what the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 promised (Alaskans.)”

“It is actually rural Alaskans who will be most impacted by the imposition of value judgments and ideologies on their lifestyle,” the Commission stated.

Some of the things now disallowed on NPS preserves, the state allows because of rural residents’ requests to be able to harvest in traditional ways, the release said.

CACFA also said that the regulations require “a passive management regime that ignores considerable scientific findings … and will lead to fluctuations in wildlife populations with significant effects to subsistence and other users.”

The rule, said NPS Associate Regional Director of Communications John Quinley, applies statewide, but doesn’t affect anything close to Juneau.

“By and large, these regulations were not new topics to them,” he said of the state agencies that have expressed displeasure.

State agencies’ mandates come from the Alaska State Legislature, he pointed out; the NPS’ come from the United States Congress.

“In the vast majority of the regulations … they’re quite compatible,” he said. “Ninety-five, 98 percent of the state regulations continue unchanged by these recent changes that we made to sport hunting in preserves. But there are these few areas where there’s a conflict.”

The NPS had asked the Board of Game to exempt national preserves from the rules that conflict several times, he said.

Many, though not all, of the changes that made the final rule were in effect as temporary ones previously, Quinley said.

“The state complained that using (temporary regulations) over and over again is not temporary,” he said. “We agreed with them, and we moved to make these regulations more permanent, and that’s where we are today.”

Another, non-hunting related change is that instead of emergency, temporary, and permanent hunting and fishing closures on NPS preserves, there will only be emergency or permanent closures. Any permanent closures will involve notice and public meetings.

“Permanent rulemaking takes much longer than it used to,” Quinley said. “The process can go multiple years. Temporary regulations just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”

The new hunting regulations will become active Jan. 1, 2016.

Changes to closure processes go into effect Nov. 23.

• Contact Juneau Empire Outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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