The Humane Society of the United States recently commissioned a five-question survey concerning a proposed change to hunting rules in Alaska, then released a statement saying the majority of Alaskans and the majority of Americans oppose these hunting rule changes. Once again, a special interest group from Outside is trying to influence policy in Alaska. And once again, a special interest group fails to understand Alaska.
The National Park Service is proposing a reversal of 2015 hunting rules in Alaska’s national preserves — not to be confused with national park land — a reversal which would ultimately realign the hunting rules on these federal lands with those rules in place on state hunting lands. Preserves are similar to national parks in that they are designed to protect the natural resources within. However, preserves are less restrictive with regards to resource extraction. Hunting, trapping and oil and gas development can be permitted in a national preserve. Preserves are often used as a conservation buffer zone near national parks or national monuments. Should the proposed rule changes be implemented, the following hunting practices would be allowed in Alaska’s national preserves:
. Taking a black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, in their dens while using an artificial light;
. Using bait to attract then harvest black and brown bears;
. Taking wolves and coyotes, including pups, during the denning season;
. Taking swimming caribou, including hunting caribou from motorboats;
. Using dogs to hunt black bears.
At first glance, these hunting practices may be seem unsporting or even inhumane. So, when survey participants were asked questions such as “Do you support or oppose a new proposal to again allow the killing of swimming caribou, including with motor-powered boats, on National Preserves in Alaska?” it’s not surprising that 75 percent of respondents said “oppose” while only 22 percent were in favor of the practice.
It might surprise people to know that these practices, such as hunting a bear and her cubs in a den and hunting swimming caribou, have been practiced for time immemorial by Alaska’s inhabitants. Hunting a swimming caribou is efficient. Taking a bear and her cubs in winter provides access to fresh meat when game is scarce. Living a subsistence lifestyle is not a game. It’s not about sport, it’s about survival.
In fall 2017, while debating the issue of taking bears in their dens at an Alaska Board of Game meeting, Arnold Demoski, of Nulato, said, “Eliminating a longstanding customary and traditional harvesting practice is wrong. Taking away a food source is wrong. This traditional knowledge has been passed on for generations and generations. . Our ancestors have had a very strong connection with animals and we still do to this day. We do not disrespect any animals of any kind.”
All of these proposed hunting methods are already allowed on state lands. Only bear baiting is commonly practiced throughout the state. The other hunting practices are used on a very small scale, mostly by people living in rural areas who live a subsistence lifestyle.
To believe that Alaska is going to see a spike in bear sows and their cubs being hunted in their dens or an increase in any of these hunting practices, if this rule change is applied, is folly. Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the state was given the right to manage fish and wildlife on the millions of acres of federal lands in Alaska. Allowing the rule change to be applied is the right thing to do under ANILCA. And the state has done a better job of managing its wildlife for a sustainable yield — as mandated by the Alaska Constitution — than any government in the Lower 48. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will continue to do so should the rule change go into effect. Allowing these hunting practices on the national preserves will have a negligible impact on animal populations.
No doubt, these animals — bears, wolves and caribou — have value in just being alive. No doubt, these animals attract tourists to Alaska who spend millions of dollars here each year. But these animals also have value in their meat, fur and bones to the Alaskans who choose to hunt them. Prohibiting these hunting practices on national preserves tramples on the state’s right to manage its wildlife.
—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 15, 2018