The state of Alaska and the federal government are headed back to court — again — to resolve another instance of “federal overreach,” Gov. Bill Walker said.
Walker said in a Tuesday morning interview with the Alaska Journal of Commerce that the state is planning a lawsuit to stop implementation of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that shifts fish and game management authority in federal refuges from the state to the feds. When the suit will be filed is unclear, but state officials are consulting with other Alaska stakeholders in the rule to file suit as a group, according to the governor.
“We are working on an aggressive response,” Walker said, to the rule that was finalized Aug. 5 and coincidentally took effect Tuesday.
He added that challenging the rule, which is specific to federal refuges in Alaska, is something he would likely discuss with the governors of other western states because it is a states’ rights issue.
Specifically, the rule transfers regulation of non-subsistence, or sport, harvest of fish and game to the Interior Department agency. Fish and Wildlife has long managed for subsistence harvests on refuges in Alaska.
“(Fish and Wildlife) has ultimate management authority over resources in the federal National Wildlife Refuge System pursuant to a variety of statutes,” the Aug. 5 Federal Register final rule notice states. “However, effective stewardship of fish and wildlife resources, various statutory provision, and Department of the Interior policy require close cooperation with the state. Indeed, as a general rule state regulations governing hunting and fishing on refuges in Alaska are adopted with exceptions tailored to the purpose of each refuge and the relevant federal authority.
The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation unequivocally condemned the rule as superseding states’ rights. Rep. Don Young said at the time it directly violates the 1980 Alaska National Interest Land Claims Act, or ANILCA, a federal law that established guidelines for, among other things, state management of fish and game on federal lands in Alaska.
A release from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office stated the rule “will likely serve as a model for similar takeovers in the Lower 48.”
The passage of ANILCA also added 54 million acres to the federal refuge system in Alaska by expanding existing refuges or creating new ones entirely. In total, there are about 77 million acres of federal refuge lands in Alaska.
• Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.