Trump just boosted hunters’ efforts to lure and slaughter bear cubs in Alaska

brown bear in front of tree

Adam Singer / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Bear-baiting — the practice of luring bears from their dens, often with human foods, and then shooting them — is once again legal in Alaska’s national preserves.

The National Park Service reversed a 2015 law that banned several hunting practices on Alaska’s federal lands. Techniques that are now allowed include bear-baiting, killing wolves and wolf puppies during denning season, and hunting black bears with dogs.

Those in favor of the new policy say that it allows the state of Alaska greater oversight of its own lands. They also claim that the Obama-era restrictions stifled traditional hunting practices, particularly among the state’s Indigenous population.

Opponents argue that the changes are at odds with conservation efforts. The Alaskan director of the National Parks Conservation Association believes that the law’s real goal is to make it easier to hunt predators like bears and wolves. If predator populations went down, then the populations of deer and caribou would increase, meaning there would be more animals for game hunters.

Who’s telling the truth? Well, you might want to look at the official NPS report

Was tribal input valued?

The NPS report states that they held consultations with 12 “tribal entities” and two Alaska Native Corporations, as well as with Alaskan state officials. However, it also says that “after consultation, considering public comments, and revising the [Environmental Assessment], the NPS did not make any changes in the final rule.”

The report includes some of the most common issues raised from the consultations and the open commenting period. One such comment mentioned concerns over “allowing sport hunters to use the same harvest methods as subsistence users.”

According to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), rural residents who subsist on the land have priority over those who hunt for sport when it comes to fish and wildlife resources.

There are non-Native subsidy hunters. However, according to the NPS’s own website, “ANILCA recognizes the significance of traditional Alaska Native and non-Native subsistence uses as a cultural value of most national parklands in Alaska and a vital piece of America’s heritage.” So it’s clear this is a concern that has a particular impact on the state’s Native residents.

How did NPS respond to the concerns in the report? Here’s the first sentence of their answer: “The NPS recognizes that this rule increases harvest opportunities for individuals hunting under State regulations in national preserves, which could increase competition with rural Alaska resident subsistence users in these locations.”

They go on to justify the new rule by saying that it probably won’t adversely affect animal populations on a statewide level. But that isn’t much comfort when you rely on local animal populations to survive.

Oh, and about the science that NPS used to reach that conclusion…

How factual are the facts?

Another common concern was if facts truly support the new law: “Some stated the proposed rule disregards scientific recommendations and conclusions made to and by the NPS through the public consultation process for the 2015 rule.”

Here’s the opening of the NPS response:

The NPS recognizes that data necessary to evaluate potential impacts of hunting on predators and their prey are difficult and costly to obtain. Neither the NPS nor the State of Alaska consistently collect population-level abundance or demographic data for black bears, brown bears, or wolves in [game management units] that overlap with national preserves.

They spend the rest of the response doing two things: first, they explain that they used historic data to reach their conclusion. Then they justify why they ignored many of the studies that were used to ban the hunting techniques back in 2015.

So who’s actually benefiting from this new law? We’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But it’s also worth remembering that Trump has removed more lands from federal trusts than any other president. In that context, this new law seems like just another part of his anti-conservation agenda.

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