Under pressure from the State of Alaska, the Department of the Interior required the USFWS to propose new rules that would dramatically affect brown bears, trapping, visitor access, and public safety on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. These changes would seriously weaken Refuge regulations developed through extensive public processes and agreements with the State dating back 40 years. There has been no public process on the proposed rules other than the public comment period which closes August 10.
Items of critical concern:
Proposed Changes would allow brown bear hunting over bait. This has never been allowed for brown bears in the Refuge. Hunters will be allowed to use human food to lure bears into bait stations up the Swanson River Road. This affects visitor and oil field worker safety as only the largest bear to visit the bait station will be killed, leaving other bears to roam with their newly-acquired taste for doughnuts and cooking oil.
Proposed Changes eliminate the Refuge trapping regulations through its permit process and its many safeguards. The State would take over management of trapping on the Refuge. These current Refuge safeguards would be eliminated under State management.
- Trapper Orientation established expectations and best practices.
- Marking traps with the trapper’s name or symbol ensured accountability.
- No-trap areas near trailheads, campgrounds, and visitor facilities protected visitors and dogs.
- Requirement to check traps prevented undue suffering and facilitated release of non-target animals such as moose, bear, and eagles.
- Requirement that bait be hidden from view protected eagles and other birds.
- Special provisions prevented over harvest of lynx, fox, marten, and beaver.
- Prohibition of toothed leg hold traps reduced suffering and made release of non-target species easier.
Other provisions of the Proposed Changes would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads and trails but these are less controversial. However, allowing hunting with firearms along the Kenai and Russian Rivers from November 1 to May 1 seems ill-advised for public safety and would increase the take of watchable wildlife in this area.
The conflict between State and Refuge wildlife management stems from the different mandates of the two agencies. Federal laws and regulations require the Refuges to be managed for natural biodiversity and a balance of predators and prey. The State mandate of maximum sustained yield of species such as moose and caribou is the justification for their predator control programs, especially killing bears and wolves. In contrast to the State, Refuges must consider user conflicts, such as trappers vs. hikers with dogs and hunters vs. wildlife viewers and recreationalists.
How You Can Learn More:
- Our Membership Meeting July 21, 5 pm
- Alaska Wildlife Alliance Informational Meeting July 22, 7 pm
- The Alaska Wildlife Alliance Table Comparing Current and Proposed Regulations: Final KNWR Rule Fact Sheet table 7.12
- Trustees for Alaska Talking Points
- Alaska Wildlife Alliance’s Bear Baiting Position Paper
- The Federal Register Notice
- The draft Environmental Assessment
How You Can Help:
We need you to comment and share this information with your friends and any groups that you feel might be concerned through our Facebook posts or other means. There will be no public meetings, and there has been scant public notice. Comments must be submitted online or by mail by 7:59 pm Alaska Time on August 10. Feel free to use our talking points but make comments based on your personal experiences and values.
- Comment Electronically
- Comment by Mail
Public Comments Processing
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MS: JAO/1N, 5275
Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803
For additional information, join our zoom meeting (link to meetings page) Tuesday night, July 21, 5 pm and hear the true story from retired refuge staff and our president David Raskin.