Appeals court upholds prohibition on brown bear baiting

Brown bear fishing for salmon. Courtesy of ADFG

Judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have upheld a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule prohibiting brown bear baiting in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within refuges.

In its ruling in Safari Club International v. Haaland, released on Monday, April 18, the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the rule, which included a ban on brown bear baiting and emphasis on wildlife viewing in the Skilak area.

“This decision affirms the authority of Fish and Wildlife Service to manage wildlife refuges to protect wildlife diversity and an array of Refuge users,” said Rachel Briggs, staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska, which intervened in the case on behalf of 15 conservation clients. “The ruling means that the Kenai Refuge will continue to function as a true refuge for vulnerable Kenai brown bears and other species.”

Trustees defended the rule alongside the Fish and Wildlife Service and arguing that the agency has an obligation to manage wildlife refuges for biological health and diversity, and necessarily has the authority to do so.

The decision upholds Fish and Wildlife Service’s authority and duty to protect a natural diversity of wildlife, which includes precluding hunting practices like brown bear baiting that result in the overharvest of bears and public safety risks related to baiting practices. The Court flatly rejected the State and Safari Club’s arguments that Alaska’s Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act allowed the state to manage hunting in the Kenai Refuge. It reaffirmed that “the federal government, and not a single state, has control over federal lands which benefit the entire country.”

The court upheld the service’s Kenai Rule as entirely reasonable under the Administrative Procedure Act. It also upheld the Rule as consistent with the laws governing the National Wildlife Refuge System and Alaska Refuges.

Clients represented by Trustees in this case included the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Alaskans for Wildlife, friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Denali Citizens Council, Copper Country Alliance, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Humane Society of the United States.