By Timothy Bolger
Environmentalists suing the Trump administration are trying to undo the recent rollback of Obama-era federal restrictions aimed at saving wolves and bears from certain hunting in 16 National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit April 20 in Alaska federal court naming Ryan Zinke, the newly appointed Secretary of Interior, who the group is asking a judge to have reinstate rules barring the killing of wolves and their pups, grizzly bears at bait stations, black bears in traps and both kinds of bears from aircraft.
“Wolf cubs shouldn’t be slaughtered in their dens on the very wildlife refuges that are meant to protect biological diversity,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist for the group. “It’s outrageous that Trump and congressional Republicans used this unconstitutional law to promote the senseless slaughter of some of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife. They clearly don’t care about the critical role these amazing animals play in healthy ecosystems.”
Congress passed the bill, dubbed House Joint Resolution 69, which was one of about 40 Congressional Review Act bills that President Trump signed into law this spring mostly designed to repeal executive orders Obama implemented near the end of his second term last year.
On Long Island, First District Congressman Lee Zeldin, whose jurisdiction includes the eastern portion of Fire Island, voted in favor of House Joint Resolution 69. However Second District Representative Peter King, whose congressional district includes the western portion of Fire Island, was one of the few Republicans that broke away from the pack, voting nay on the bill.
The rule is part of a long-running debate in which the federal government has historically maintained that the goal of national wildlife refuges is biodiversity, but the state Board of Game prioritizes the maximum population of prey for hunting — and culling predators means more moose and caribou that rural Alaskans rely on for sustenance, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
The national debate over hunting practices in the Alaskan outback dates back about a decade, when former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin expressed support for shooting and killing wolves from helicopters — a type of hunting that critics decried as inhumane and unsportsmanlike.
Last month, Alaska, which reportedly filed a lawsuit earlier this year in an attempt to block the rules barring the hunting of wolves and bears in the refuges, asked the court for permission to intervene in support of Zinke in the environmental group’s lawsuit.
“The elimination of the improper hunting restrictions allows the state to continue managing wildlife for all Alaskans,” said Sam Cotton, the state Department of Fish and Game commissioner. “We understand the importance of wildlife to our state and our focus is on maintaining populations into the future.”
The legal showdown comes after the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) — a unit of the National Park Service, which, like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-managed National Wildlife Refuge System, falls under the umbrella of the Department of Interior — approved a plan last year to cull the deer population on the barrier island, although no deer hunt has commenced to date. A spokeswoman for FINS noted that the Alaskan wildlife refuge predator hunting rules have no impact on Fire Island.