New rules for killing bears, wolves in national preserves challenged

Lawsuit names Interior Department, National Park Service as defendants

Thirteen conservation and environmental entities are suing the federal government over new sport hunting regulations aimed at reducing populations of predators, including wolves and bears, on national preserves.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Wednesday, Aug. 26, contends that such regulations violate the National Park Service’s Organic Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The new rule now in place illegally clears the way for the state of Alaska to allow activities like bear baiting and killing of wolves during denning season in all national preserves in Alaska, including those in Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias, said attorneys for Trustees for Alaska.

The lawsuit names as defendants Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks George Wallace, the Interior Department and National Park Service.

Trustees filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Alaska Wilderness League, Alaskans FOR Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, Copper Country Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Denali Citizens Council, the Humane Society of the United States, National Parks Conservation Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and Wilderness Watch.

The new rules reverse the National Park Service’s longstanding position that the state of Alaska may not implement sport hunting regulations on national preserves that are designed to decimate predators in order to increase the numbers of moose and caribou available for people to hunt, Trustees attorneys said.

“Any rule that leads to the manipulation of predator populations rather than the preservation of wildlife diversity clearly and absolutely breaks federal law,” said Katie Strong, senior staff attorney for Trustees.

Nancy Bale, a board member of the Denali Citizens Council, said the council strongly supports the conservation values of the National Park Service and of Denali National Park and Preserve.

“We supported the NPS wildlife preserves rule signed in 2015 that prohibited certain hunting practices on the NPS preserves, while continuing to allow most state-regulated hunting and trapping in those areas,” Bale said. “We are highly disappointed that NPS, our country’s premier habitat and wildlife conservation agency, waited less than five years to do a complete reversal of the well-defended 2015 rule.”

Elisabeth Balster Dabney, executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said that the new rules explicitly disregard federal laws established to protect wildlife.

“Good sportsmanship, sound science and National Park Service mandates all work together to keep predator species thriving and surviving,” she said. “Predator species are essential to the health of ecosystems. This reversal cannot stand.”