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Sunday, July 07, 2024

Outrage after Biden administration reinstates ‘barbaric’ Trump-era hunting rules | Biden administration | The Guardian

Outrage after Biden administration reinstates ‘barbaric’ Trump-era hunting rules

"Rules allow hunting practices that target bears and wolves, including pups or cubs, on federal land in Alaska

Brown bears fish for sockeye salmon
Brown bears fish for sockeye salmon in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska in 2023. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration has reinstated controversial Trump-era rules allowing what critics say are “barbaric” hunting practices that target bears and wolves, including pups or cubs, on federal land in Alaska.

Sport hunters use the practices, like killing young in their dens, to eliminate predators of caribou, which are considered trophy animals. The killings are probably decimating predator populations on federal Alaskan preserves, said Jeff Ruch, Pacific director with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The rules come after the Obama administration in 2015 had banned a range of the controversial practices. The Trump administration’s National Park Service (NPS) undid the Obama rules in its final year, and the Biden administration had proposed reinstating the Obama rules.

But it largely re-published the Trump rules, generating dismay and outrage among some environmental groups.

“This was [the Biden administration’s] attempt to undo the largest damage the Trump administration’s NPS had done and they whiffed at it, and for reasons that aren’t at all clear,” Ruch said. “It’s disappointing because it’s exactly contrary to what they proposed several years ago.”

Among other practices, the new rules permit: the killing of wolf and coyote pups in dens; the use of artificial light or dogs to draw bears or wolves and their young out of caves; and using motorboats to kill swimming caribou.

The new rules reinstated a ban on “bear baiting” in which food is used to attract bears that are shot as they approach the bait. Ruch said the Biden administration banned the practice not out of concern for the animals, but because it caused bears to see humans as a food source, which created a safety risk.

Not everyone is in opposition to the hunting practices. An exemption allowed local Native American tribes to use them for subsistence hunting. Some of the tribes’ urban members were not exempt from the Obama rules, Ruch said, so tribes opposed them, but it’s unclear how much that factored into the decision making.

The NPS offered only vague insight into its decision to allow the controversial practices, writing that it “determined it is not necessary at this time … [but] may reconsider whether this policy statement should be incorporated into regulatory provisions in the future”.

Ruch said the failure to fully explain a rationale for the rules is part of a larger issue at the Biden park service.

“What’s going on over there, and who’s making the decision and why, is completely unclear,” he said.

A park service spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that the practices are probably not an effective way to increase caribou populations, and PEER facilitated a letter from 71 academic and government biologists who argued for reimplementing the Obama rules. Federal lands are especially important for wildlife in Alaska, where the state GOP has gutted hunting regulations and predator populations have suffered.

“[The park service] has a special responsibility to maintain these conditions in the national interest,” the biologists wrote.

The government does not closely track the populations, so how many of the predators are killed annually, or remain on federal lands is unknown. There is evidence that some populations are dwindling, Ruch said. Among hunters’ most common targets are the wolves in Denali national park, which are a tourist attraction and emblematic of Alaskan wildlife.

Tourists on organized viewing trips used to see the wolves over 60% of the time, but now do only around 5%, Ruch said.

The practice “is designed to eradicate the predator populations”.

“Why else would you go with lights into a bear den?” he asked. “This is the opposite of fair chase.”

Ruch noted that environmental groups are exploring their legal options. A lawsuit followed the implementation of the Trump rules, which a judge invalidated. The court placed a stay on the rules’ undoing for two years, but now that the Biden administration has published rules that many environmental groups still oppose, Ruch says another round of litigation seems likely.

“There’s no sport in this, it’s not for trophy or meat, it’s meant to reduce the predator numbers so that [caribou populations] are arguably increased,” he added."

Outrage after Biden administration reinstates ‘barbaric’ Trump-era hunting rules | Biden administration | The Guardian

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