Alaska could expand 'predator control' in wildlife refuges

The U.S. Senate voted yesterday to cancel a federal bill restricting non-subsistence hunting in Alaska's national wildlife refuges. Opponents fear this will mean more wolves and bears are killed on refuges and say that policy is not supported by science.

Opponents say policy to kill wolves and bears isn't based on science

The National Academy of Sciences has questioned whether predator control is effective. Alaskan congressman Don Young has accused it of being biased against hunters. (Casey Brown/Flickr)

Alaska's national wildlife refuges could soon see more hunting of wolves and bears, some of which could be done using airplanes, traps or even bait to lure bears. 

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to cancel a federal bill enacted by the Obama administration in 2016 that restricts non-subsistence hunting in the state's federally-managed wildlife refuges. 

The Senate approved the repeal measure, 52-47, sending it to the president. The House approved the measure last month.

The repeal was proposed by Alaska representative Don Young who argues the issue is about states' rights. 

"My resolution overturns an illegal rule by the Obama administration," he told the House last month.

"Some of you will say, 'oh, we have to protect the wolf puppies.' That's not what this is about. This is about the law. The right of Alaskans to manage all fish and game," he said. 

Predator Control programs

Opponents fear Alaska will now expand its Predator Control programs, already in effect across about 10 per cent of the state. The aim of such programs is to increase moose, caribou or deer populations by reducing predation by wolves and bears. 

Alaska's policy of predator control is designed to 'increase moose, caribou, or deer populations that are a needed food source for Alaskans.' However some scientists say the ecosystem isn't that simple. (Kate Fair)

Michael Haukedalen, Alaska state director for the U.S. Humane Society, calls that policy flawed.

"It's a practice that is not considered scientific by many people, in terms of the goal of increasing the number of desired species, in this case, moose and caribou," he says. "There are many credible scientists who point out this is not effective." 

The federal bill restricting non-subsistence hunting on Alaska's wildlife refuges was passed in 2016 and specifically forbade: 

  • Taking black of brown bear cubs or sows with cubs
  • Taking brown bears over bait
  • Taking bears using traps or snares
  • Taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season
  • Taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred

​The Republican motion called House Joint Resolution 69 merely states this previous federal rule will "have no force or effect." 

Opponents say a repeal essentially means an approval of these techniques. Young disagrees.

"They talk about killing puppies and (cubs) grizzly bears. That does not happen. Nor is it legal in the state of Alaska," he said. "There's been a lot of interest groups that state falsehoods and flat-out dishonesty."

Alaska's hunting rules already forbid private hunters from killing wolf or bear cubs but the Humane Society says this has been approved by the state's Predator Control program in the past.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of 16 federally-managed wildlife refuges in Alaska. Collectively, they cover more than 300,000 square kilometres in all. (Al Grillo/The Associated Press)

Alaska's policy 'against science' says opponent 

In a Feb. 15 meeting of the House Rules Committee, Democratic representative Jared Polis from Colorado railed against the repeal. 

"Why should Alaska be allowed to kill wildlife on a federal wildlife refuge without at least proving a scientific basis that  this kind of slaughter is actually productive?" he said.

Why should Alaska be allowed to kill wildlife on a federal wildlife refuge without at least proving a scientific basis thatthis kind of slaughter is actually productive?-Jared Polis, US Representative, 2nd District of Colorado

Polis cited the U.S. National Academy of Sciences which has questioned the Predator Control program and said more research is needed. A 1997 study from the academy said predator-prey interactions are "not that simple". 

Young, however, dismissed the study and said the Academy is biased and against all hunting. 

"That science report is made by those that do not like the taking of any game, at any hour," he said. 

Young said he's personally seen moose killed by wolves on his trapline. 

With files from the Associated Press