Senator moves to halt proposed ban on Alaska predator hunts

FAIRBANKS — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is looking to stop a proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ban on some bear, wolf and coyote hunts on federal wildlife refuges in the state.

An amendment to Sullivan’s Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 would prohibit the federal agency from enacting hunting restrictions the agency announced earlier this month, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Federal wildlife officials on Jan. 8 proposed changes to hunting and trapping rules for national wildlife refuges in Alaska, covering about 77 million acres.

The proposal includes bans on brown bear baiting, killing wolves and coyotes during the denning season and targeting bears with snares or traps. Hunts like those violate the agency’s conservation mission by deliberately targeting predators to increase the output of large game animal like deer, caribou and moose for human consumption, according to the text of the proposed rule.

Sullivan’s amendment is the latest move in a decades-long dispute over the U.S. government’s control of Alaska’s federal lands. State leaders and legislators have argued that the federal government has violated the Statehood Act and the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that created most of the federal wildlife refuges in the state.

“It would fundamentally change the relationship the Fish and Wildlife Service has with individual states from one of cooperation to subservience,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “And that is not what the federal laws — ANILCA, the Statehood Act — have guaranteed Alaska.”

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to make additional rules in support of its conservation mission, according to the explanation of the agency’s proposed rule published in the Federal Register.

“Under ANILCA, each refuge in Alaska has a nonexclusive list of purposes for which it was established, including ‘conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity,” the proposed rule states.

Sullivan’s bill is now out of committee, but he said he was not sure when it would reach the Senate floor.

In addition to the language added Wednesday, the bill addresses several other federal sports hunting rules. It seeks to loosen the definition of “baited areas” used in bird hunting rules and allows for more funds from gun and ammunition sales to go toward public shooting ranges.

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