Congress recently appealed a bill created during Obama’s presidency meant to protect wildlife and restrict hunting practices. With this bill hanging in the balance, the wildlife in Alaska, the area the bill pertains to, is at risk of over-hunting and trapping by enthusiasts who will abuse the lifted restriction. Beyond that, the appealed bill allows the hunting and killing of predators like bears and wolves while they are with young or hibernating in their dens, a practice that has been outlawed for years.
What Happened in Congress?
In early April, the Republican led Senate approved a bill that would repeal hunting restrictions on national wildlife refuges in Alaska that were instituted by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016. The House of Commons also voted to eliminate these restrictions. The next step is to have the bill, outlining the removal of the restrictions, signed by Trump to be put into effect
This bill put forward by the Republicans was thanks to the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Review Act allows the new administration to review and cancel regulations that were put into place during the finals days of the outgoing administration. It essentially allows the Republican dominated Senate and House to use their majority power to overturn many of Obama’s important and influential regulations. Democratic senators are powerless to push against these majority rulings and are unable to filibuster.
What Did the Ruling Protect?
The hunting restrictions were originally put in place to protect predator species from aggressive hunters on Alaskan national wildlife refuges. The ruling included predator control on 16 of these national, federally owned refuges in Alaska. Specifics of the ruling include banning aerial hunting, banning live trapping and baiting of certain predators like bears and wolves, and banning the killing of predators when they’re near their dens or with their young.
The main debate over this ruling boils down to whether the issue of hunting practices should be regulated by the federal or state level government. Alaska Dispatch News explains, “At the heart of the disagreement between state and federal wildlife managers is what each group thinks should guide its purpose. The federal government has argued that the goal on refuges and in parks should be biodiversity. The state Board of Game has an interest in ensuring maximum sustained populations for hunting.”
Why Lift the Ruling’s Restrictions?
The majority of supporters for the bill that would overturn the ruling’s restrictions are Republicans who believe the federal government is overstepping by regulating the national refuges in Alaska. Alaska Rep. Don Young, the sponsor of the bill, explained, “Not only does this action undermine Alaska's ability to manage fish and wildlife upon refuge lands. It fundamentally destroys a cooperative relationship between Alaska and the federal government.”
His fellow Republican senators agree. Senator Dan Sullivan, another Alaskan representative, argued that the current restrictions make Alaska subservient to the Fish and Wildlife Service, instead of a cooperative partner. Senator Lisa Murkowski, also of Alaska, said that opponents of the bill are unfamiliar with Alaska and how state management of fish and wildlife works in that state. Murkowski elaborated, “"Opponents will allege that the repeal of this rule will legalize brutal predator control practices. The Senate should know that it is already illegal for hunters to use certain practices — gas against wolves, traps to bears. You can't do this in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.”
Who Is Against Lifting the Restrictions?
Unfortunately, not everyone was buying what the Republican representatives were selling. Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington explained her take on the situation, “This isn't about states' rights. It's not about prohibiting hunting. ... It's about how we can manage these wildlife refuges to the degree that agencies believe are necessary for the preservation of these wildlife heritage areas.”
Keeping the maximum sustained populations of predators and prey is a delicate balance. Commonly hunted prey in Alaska like elk, moose and caribou are often protected by reigning in the populations of their predators, such as bears and wolves. However, in 2016, federal regulators felt the Alaskan Board of Game was going too far in eliminating predator species in order to protect prey species. This argument was supported by many Democratic senators and environmental groups.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, explained, “This isn't hunting — it's slaughter. Killing wolves and bears in this cruel, unsportsmanlike fashion is outrageous, especially in national wildlife refuges that belong to all Americans. Repealing these protections also undermines the critical role predators play in healthy ecosystems.”