USFWS Halts Predator Control on Alaska Refuges

USFWS Halts Predator Control on Alaska Refuges

Photo credit: Michigan Tech Photo

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) gets involved in states’ wildlife conservation issues, whether in Yellowstone Park or now in Alaska, predators and anti-hunters come out on top and state wildlife departments, hunters and prey animals get the short end of the stick.

As the latest example, on Aug. 5 the USFWS finalized a ruling stripping away the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADFG) predator management authority on all 77 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges within its boundaries. Not only does the Obama Administration’s blatant overreach counter America’s lauded state-based wildlife conservation practices. It is at odds with Alaska’s constitutional mandate to manage its fish and wildlife under the principles of sustained yield. Just as important, the difference between Alaska and other states is that many Alaskans subsistence-hunt for survival. Without the authority to control predators such as wolves, it will be impossible to manage bull-to-cow and buck-to-doe ratios from moose to caribou to deer, depleting the prey populations on which many residents rely.

As for why the USFWS is taking predator management out of the hands of the ADFG, it says “natural diversity” is the best wildlife management method. Of course, the hands-off approach that protects predators has no basis in scientific fact. It's amazing that the USFWS leaves the human hunter out of the equation, though man has been at the top of the food chain since time began. Then again, the fact USFWS Director Dan Ashe—a federal government employee—and  anti-hunter and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle couldn’t commend each other fast enough on social media after the anti-wildlife-management decision was handed down tells you something. The duo marked its banner day by writing these online articles. To see Ashe's Op-ed, click here, for Pacelle's response, click here.

Preempting Alaska’s management authority clearly justified the concerns of the ADFG and the hunting community in recent months as the USFWS followed in the wake of the National Park Service’s October 2015 decision to restrict hunting practices on Alaska’s national preserves,” said Susan Recce, NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “USFWS completely ignored the concerns that were raised by more than 25 national wildlife conservation and hunting organizations that submitted comments and signed joint letters to the agency opposing such blatant intrusion into states’ authority to manage resident wildlife.” 

Breaking State and Federal Law
According to Carol Bambery, NRA Board member and general counsel for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the USFWS decision violates both federal and state laws. For starters, she explains that the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) Act, as amended by the NWRS Improvement Act, assigns the Secretary of the Interior 14 responsibilities. Only one directs the USFWS to “ensure the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the System are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

“The USFWS chose to implement a policy that flushes out this one responsibility, which they have now bootstrapped into regulation,” Bambery explains. “Because the Act does not assign priority to responsibilities and merely lists them, the decision made this aspect of administering refuges priority over all others.” The “natural diversity” mandate implying no human management of predators causes conflict in three key areas: It prohibits the ADFG from controlling the subsistence take of predators, diminishing the wild food supply Alaska Natives literally need for survival; is inconsistent with Congressional direction to comply with state laws; and violates the Alaska Constitution authorizing the state to manage its wildlife.

For the full AFWA statement on the rule, click here.

Ignoring Science and Expertise
Of course, the USFWS ruling throws common-sense science-based management out the window, though it’s the foundation of the acclaimed North American Model of Wildlife Conservation through which wildlife biologists and other professionals manage fish and wildlife in trust for the public at large. . As noted by Jeff Crane, a member of NRA’s Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Committee and president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), which supports the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus in Congress, stripping trained ADFG professionals of their wildlife management tools not only impacts those living subsistence-based lifestyles. “Each year over 125,000 people hunt in Alaska, accounting for $439 million in economic activity, 5,950 Alaska jobs and $54 million in state and local tax revenues,” he explained. For more on the positive impact of American hunters and the scientifically-developed state management efforts they fund, click here. Yet, as Crane said, for some reason the USFWS thinks it makes sense to go against the user-pays, public-benefits system we hunters know as the American System of Conservation Funding.

Stopping the USFWS' Power Grab
This could be the tip of the iceberg, setting a precedent for taking away a state’s right to manage its own wildlife based on scientific management and factors unique to that state. While we hunters don’t always agree with our own state’s management methods, at least we have a say in the process. In this case, it is clear American hunters had zero influence.

Fortunately, Alaskans, the ADFG and American hunters in general have Alaska-based partners in conservation in Congress, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young of the NRA Board. In denouncing the ruling, both called out USFWS Director Ashe for criticizing the ADFG and, in giving high marks to HSUS’ Pacelle, further politicizing the issue. “His [Ashe’s] writing makes it clear this is about ideology and power—not responsible management or good government,” said Murkowski.” Young, who recognizes the scope of the USFWS power grab is enormous, already proposed legislation to overturn it. If Congress fails, the State of Alaska and Alaska Natives, hunters and guides will pair with the AFWA and like-minded conservation groups accounting for millions of hunters to fight the illegal rule in court.

The central message in all of this? Hunters and wildlife agencies—state and federal—must work as a team to ensure the future of our renewable wildlife resources. Our goal is the same: to preserve our hunting heritage and hunting as the single most effective wildlife management tool. While relationships between state and federal agencies will continually evolve, we already have anti-hunters at every turn trying to take wildlife management away from trained professionals. They are the problem; partnerships between hunters and wildlife agencies are the solution.