Alaska Sues U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Over Refuge Predator Program

Jan 27, 2017

The state of Alaska has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a federal agency's restrictions on predator harvests on wildlife refuges and national parks there.

State attorneys filed the lawsuit Jan. 13 in the U.S. District Court of Alaska, claiming new rules adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) violate a 1980s law authorizing the state to manage wildlife, impairs indigenous peoples' ability to harvest food for sustenance, and sets a precedence to restrict future fish and game harvests, intended to be under state control.

The new rules prohibit taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs, taking brown bears over bait, taking bears using traps or snares, taking wolves and coyotes from May 1 to Aug. 9, and taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred.

In 2015 the National Park Service (NPS), also under the Department of the Interior, placed similar restrictions on national park lands there.

The FWS manages 16 national wildlife refuges, totaling 73 million acres, and the NPS 24 national parks, totaling 54 million acres of land in Alaska. More than 60 percent of all land managed by the NPS is in this state.

FWS Director Dan Ashe said last summer the action was taken, "In response to public interest and concern about predator harvests on national wildlife refuges across Alaska," and, "to clarify that predator control is not allowed on national wildlife refuges in the state unless based on sound science and in response to a conservation concern, or is necessary to meet refuge purposes, federal laws or FWS policy."

In the 1990s the state legislature adopted the Intensive Management Law, requiring the Alaska Board of Game (BOG) to identify moose, caribou, and deer as important food sources, and to protect these in numbers to allow for adequate and sustained harvest for both tribal entities and game hunters.

If populations drop below what is needed for continued harvests, it directs the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) to undertake intensive management to investigate, and increase numbers using season restrictions and bag limits, improving habitat, liberalizing harvest of predators, and predator control.

Mitch Ellis, FWS regional chief of refuges for the Alaska Region, said the ADFG had changed its policies and practices to increase control efforts for predator populations, and the FWS was responding to this by clarifying its own.

"They have a different mandate than we do," he said. "We are mandated by Congress to manage these refuges for diversity and make sure the biological integrity is intact, while the state has shifted its policies to create more animals to harvest."

"As Alaskans, we have a unique relationship with our land – especially in the most rural parts of our state where residents rely on hunting and fishing to put food on the table," said Gov. Bill Walker. "These regulations impact our basic means of survival. Alaskans must be able to provide for their families, and the rules that have been put forward by the federal government do not support that."

"Alaskans depend on wildlife for food. These federal regulations are not about predator control or protecting the state's wildlife numbers," said Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. "These regulations are about the federal government trying to control Alaskans' way of life and how Alaskans conduct their business. This is contrary to state and federal law."

Additional information, including a copy of the final rule can be found at:

—Etta Pettijohn