The Trump administration’s National Park Service released last week the final version of a rule that would allow hunters in Alaska to take baby bears at den sites, harvest brown bears over bait, and shoot caribou from motorboats, among other hunting tactics.
The media reacted with predictably sensationalized accounts of the administration’s callousness.
“The ‘amazingly cruel’ move by the National Park Service reverses Obama-era regulations which also affect wolves and coyotes,” read one headline in The Guardian.
While the basic facts about the rule are true, media accounts leave out critical pieces of context.
The rule was written as part of the larger aim to align federal hunting regulations more closely with state law. Prior to a 2015 Obama administration rule, these hunting practices on federal land were controlled by state regulations.
In Alaska, state officials were given sole authority to manage land and wildlife when the region was granted statehood in 1959. That policy was renewed by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Alaska is so large and complex, the thinking went, that state officials would be the most effective stewards of the land.
The Trump administration’s new rule reinforces that precedent by removing federal regulations that had impinged on the state’s historic control.
What’s more, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game noted in 2018, the controversial harvest methods are only permitted in a small portion of the state and primarily used by Alaska Native people who lack access to grocery stores.
“The harvest is small and carried out mostly, if not entirely, by Alaska Native people who have taken bears in dens for thousands of years. The same is true of swimming caribou taken with rifles from boats, allowed only in two isolated game management units where caribou serve as a primary food source,” the department says.
“Taking bears in dens or caribou in the water are not widespread or popular hunting methods. Both activities are currently allowed under state and federal regulations in limited locations and neither is employed by the general hunting community.”
Native peoples have also voiced their support for the new rule.
“The previous rule was implemented without adequate tribal consultation, in disregard to rural Alaska’s dependence on wild food resources,” said Victor Joseph, chair of the Tanana Chiefs Conference which represents 42 tribes in the Alaska interior, in a statement. “The previous limitations enacted in 2015 threatened our way of life and our centuries-long sustainable management practices.”
The new rule is set to take effect at the end of the month.