Brutal hunting techniques allowed again in Alaska | Polarjournal
Alaska’s bears are now not even safe in their dens during hibernation. Since early July, it has been legal again to shoot bear mothers and cubs in their dens. This practice has little to do with hunting as such. Photograph: Ken Ilugnas/National Park Service

Alaska’s wilderness, which still includes vast areas relatively unaffected by human activity, is threatened on many different levels. Only a few days ago we reported about the planned road construction through caribou habitat. Now it is about the hunting rules in the northernmost state of the USA, which were amended under Barack Obama in 2015, banning certain hunting methods described as barbaric on federal public land, namely in national reserves. The Trump Administration has now overturned this environmental regulation – one of a hundred in total.

For just under five years, predators, caribou and moose were spared in Alaska from heinous trophy hunting practices. With the lifting of the ban in early July, hunters have now been allowed again to lure black and brown bears with donuts soaked in bacon grease; to use spotlights to blind and shoot black bear mothers and cubs in their dens during hibernation; to shoot wolves and coyotes and their cubs during rearing; to shoot swimming caribou, even from a motorboat under power; and to use dogs to hunt black bears.

All these methods have been denounced by wildlife conservationists and animal rights groups for years, which is why they were finally banned by the Obama Administration in 2015. This was preceded by a dispute between the Alaska Board of Game and the National Park Service over how the state of Alaska should deal with its predators. The primary concern of the Board of Game is to ensure that enough moose, caribou and other game are available for hunters. The National Park Service, on the other hand, is responsible for protecting wildlife populations, including predators such as bears. The 2015 ban clearly codified the role of the National Park Service by enacting a rule that abolished sports hunting and trapping on federal public territory in Alaska.

Besides bears, wolves and coyotes including their cubs may also be shot again. Allegedly there are not enough caribou and moose left for the hunters because of the large number of predators. The actual numbers of predator individuals are unknown due to a lack of data. Photograph: David Kopshever/National Park Service

Alaskan leaders and hunting advocates saw the rules introduced by Obama as an encroachment on the rights of states and a violation of their livelihoods. Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a Republican, accused the previous administration of “attacking unique game management authority” protected by state and federal law. According to Eddie Grasser, director of wildlife conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the tactic is used sparingly and primarily by subsistence hunters. If that is true, however, the question arises as to why senators and hunting advocates were so dogged in their pursuit of lifting the ban. After all, it was not hunting per se that was prohibited, but the brutal hunting practices.

Moreover, as Carson Barylak, campaign manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, points out, the rights of non-consuming users, those who visit the protected areas to observe wildlife, hike, photograph nature, and enjoy the unique ecology of the landscapes, are completely ignored. It is also our common right to connect with nature and to enjoy the wildlife that is protected on public land.

The latest rule, which now puts the state’s hunting laws ahead of federal law, is based on an order from Trump’s first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. The former Montana congressman, who displayed a stuffed bear in his Washington office, signed the order to expand recreational activities on public lands, including hunting and fishing. National Park Service officials later cited the order as a reason for lifting the ban.
Zinke is a passionate trophy hunter and, during his time as Interior Secretary, he pushed for the lifting of the ban on the import of elephant and lion trophies, both quietly without a press release. Other dubious “achievements” of Zinke include the massive area reductions of numerous US national monuments and the drastic reductions in funding for scientific and environmental authorities.
President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., an avid big game hunter, is also an advocate of expanding hunting rights on federal territory — one of the priorities of the current government.

Caribou are also affected by the reinstated regulation. It is again allowed to shoot them from a motorboat under power while they swim through a river or a lake. Photograph: Kyle Joly/National Park Service

After the new rules were announced in May 2018, there was strong protest from 79 members of Congress and hundreds of academics who opposed the new rule. They say there is “little scientific evidence” that relaxing hunting rules for predators and allowing baiting techniques would increase the availability of other game.

“We have never opposed hunting, but this can hardly be considered hunting,” says Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association. “To be going into dens of hibernating bears and killing cubs and killing moms certainly is, I don’t think, the picture most people have of hunting.”

Their protests went unheard, and so, just in time for the summer, these practices are now legal again on more than 20 million acres of wilderness in Alaska.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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