Hibernating bear families and wolf families rising young pups on 76 million acres of federal refuges in Alaska will become fair game if the Senate and President vote to approve. Mother bears hibernating with their cubs and wolves raising pups in their dens may no longer be protected from a hunter’s rifle. A controversial measure was taken this week after the US House of Representatives voted to legalize the killing of both black bear cubs and their mothers at their dens, located in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, according to recent reports.
This decision was strongly backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and also overturns a ‘Fair Chase’ rule, that was previously announced by the Obama administration. This rule meant that there were limits on baiting, trapping and the use of airplanes to track and shoot bears and wolves on the US Fish and Wildlife Service lands in Alaska.
It then came as no surprise that this vote prompted an outpouring of criticism from a number of wildlife and conservation groups. Jenny Keatinge, a federal lands policy analyst from Defenders of Wildlife, expressed her views on the decision. She said, “Alaska’s extreme predator control policies lack scientific support, contravene conservation mandates on national wildlife refuges and defy traditional wildlife management principles. H.J. Res. 69 would cede federal management of iconic wildlife to the state’s misguided program on over 76 million acres of national wildlife refuges that belong to all Americans.”
Safari Club International also joined the NRA in pushing Congress to overturn the Fair Chase rule to make the bears more accessible to hunt. They are a group that has been criticized in the past by both sportsmen and animal rights groups for advocating “canned” or captive hunting and elite trophy hunting. Both Safari Club International and the NRA joined together to write a letter to House members, claiming that “the rule preempts the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s authority on national wildlife refuges.”
Although the Obama administration rule does not prohibit hunting in wildlife refuges and allows subsistence hunting as well as science-based predator control, it does limit certain practices. Alongside this, the rule that the groups are trying to overturn also limits the use of rotting meat and pet food to lure the bears to a pre-planned area to provide an easy kill. Many hunting groups say that this method violates the ethics of a fair chase, meaning that the animal does not have a chance to escape.
Bear baiting was also brought to media attention back in 2014 when a ballot measure in Maine would have limited bear baiting in the state. After the ballot measure lost, it prompted hundreds of organizations, businesses, and opinion leaders, including many hunters, to speak out against bear baiting. Mary Moulton, an avid hunter and supporter of the ballot measure, explained in 2014, “Hounding, baiting, and trapping lack the very skill that draws most hunters to the sport: the challenge of tracking and finding the bear. These practices give hunting a bad image by mocking the notion of sportsmanship and fair chase.”
Recent polling shows that Alaskans do not support baiting or trapping of animals in national wildlife refuges, with a two-to-one margin. The National Wildlife Refuge System that the vote is concerned with is the only network of federal lands and waters that are currently dedication to the conservation of wildlife. The system is made up of 566 national wildlife refuges, 16 of which are in Alaska. A companion resolution in the Senate, sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), has not yet been scheduled for a vote.
As you can see by the video, both Mom and cubs are very vulnerable when in their den:
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