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Contact: Peter Christian
Today, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a final rule that amends its regulations for hunting and trapping in Alaska national preserves, removing prohibitions adopted in 2015 on harvest practices, which are otherwise permitted by the state of Alaska and federal law. This rule provides for Alaska residents who rely on state law to engage in their traditional hunting practices.
Having reconsidered its prior position in light of a review of the relevant authorities and of the associated impacts, NPS has determined its 2015 rule conflicts with federal and state laws which allow for hunting and trapping in national preserves.
The final rule affirms the state of Alaska’s role in wildlife management on Alaska national preserves, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) policies guiding the federal-state relationship in the management of fish and wildlife.
“The amended rule will support the Department's interest in advancing wildlife conservation goals and objectives, and in ensuring the state of Alaska’s proper management of hunting and trapping in our national preserves, as specified in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act” said NPS Deputy Director David Vela. “It will also more closely align hunting and trapping regulations with those established by the state of Alaska by providing more consistency with harvest regulations between federal and surrounding non-federal lands and waters.”
“Today’s announcement confirms the sovereign authorities the state has with respect to managing wildlife on our national preserve lands. This is a step towards acknowledging Alaska’s rightful control over fish and wildlife resources all across the state,” said Governor of Alaska Michael J. Dunleavy. “Hunting and responsible management of wildlife are an integral part of the Alaskan lifestyle and this will further align hunting regulations on the federal level with those established by the State of Alaska for the benefit of Alaskans.”
“This final rule protects Alaska’s hunting and fishing traditions and upholds longstanding states’ rights,” stated Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Lisa Murkowski (AK). “I thank the Department for bringing the rule into alignment with Alaska’s statutes and regulations and restoring Alaska’s authority to determine the best practices for wildlife management on all Alaska lands.”
“This finalized rule is needed not only as a matter of principle, but as a matter of states’ rights and the future of Alaska’s proven, science-based wildlife management strategies,” said Senator Dan Sullivan (AK). “In 2017, Congress sent a powerful message with the passage and enactment of H.J. Res. 69 – which overturned a similarly overreaching rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service – that Alaskans are not going to accept this attack on our unique game management authority, guaranteed and protected in both the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Today is no different, and I thank the Administration and the Department of Interior for once again working with Alaska, instead of against us.”
“I would like to thank Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the Trump Administration for working to overturn this prohibition that has negatively impacted Alaska,” stated Congressman Don Young (AK-At Large). “With the release of this final rule, we are eliminating a wrongful federal seizure of Alaska’s authority. I’m thankful to those who played a role, including the countless state and local stakeholders that have helped to fight this blatant overreach by the previous administration.”
“The previous rule was implemented without adequate tribal consultation, in disregard to rural Alaska's dependence on wild food resources,” stated Victor Joseph, Chief and Chairman, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC). “The previous limitations enacted in 2015, threatened our way of life and our centuries long sustainable management practices. Tanana Chiefs Conference supports these revisions.” (TCC represents 42 member tribes that comprise 37% of the interior of Alaska.)
The 2015 harvest prohibitions were not required for conservation purposes and removing them will not result in significant impacts to park resources nor the maintenance of healthy wildlife populations in national preserves. The NPS retains the authority to close areas in national preserves to hunting under federal law where there is a conservation concern or for public safety, use and enjoyment.
This final rule further contributes to the DOI’s ongoing efforts to work cooperatively with state wildlife agencies to ensure hunting regulations for public lands and waters correlate with the regulations on neighboring lands and waters. The efforts also aim to advance shared wildlife conservation goals and objectives that align wildlife management programs, seasons, and methods of take permitted on all the DOI-managed lands and waters with corresponding programs, seasons, and methods established by state wildlife management agencies, to the extent legally practicable.
Congress created national preserves in Alaska to be open to hunting, fishing and trapping under federal and state law. Except for subsistence activities provided for under federal law, national parks in Alaska are closed to hunting and trapping by law. This rule makes no changes in that regard, and federal subsistence regulations are also not affected by the final regulation.
The rule, “Sport Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves in Alaska,” will be published in the Federal Register next week. After the proposed rule publishes, it can be found at www.regulations.gov by searching for “1024-AE38.” The final rule will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The NPS released an environmental assessment (EA) for public review and comment in September 2018. In support of the final rule, the NPS has released a revised EA and Finding of No Significant Impact, available at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/AKROWildlifeEA.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) established each of the national preserves in Alaska as NPS lands that would specifically remain open to hunting and trapping and be managed by the state of Alaska. This is the principal reason why Congress created national preserve areas in Alaska as separate and distinct lands from other areas included within national parks. In this respect, they were intended to differ from national park designated lands managed by the NPS. ANILCA delegates limited closure authority to the Secretary of the Interior for reasons of public safety, administration, floral and faunal protection, or public use and enjoyment.
The Alaska Statehood Act grants the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) full authority to manage fish and wildlife in Alaska, including on federal lands (P.L. 85-508, § 6(e)). Seasons, bag limits, harvest methods, and other regulations related to hunting and trapping are established by ADF&G and the Alaska Board of Game, a body with members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Alaska Legislature. The Alaska Constitution requires the management of wildlife and natural resources for “maximum use consistent with the public interest,” and “maintained on the sustained yield principle.” (Alaska Const. Art. VIII, §1, 2, and 4). The State’s constitutional mandate for sustained yield is consistent with NPS Management Policies, which state that the NPS “manages [wildlife] harvest to allow for self-sustaining populations of harvested species.”
In Wildlife for the 21st Century: Volume V, the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, a consortium of 45 organizations, recommended this action be taken and that the 2015 prohibitions be reversed.
On April 3, 2017, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule for Alaska National Wildlife Refuges nearly identical in substance to the aspects of the 2015 NPS Rule at issue in this rulemaking, was repealed under the authority of the Congressional Review Act (See Pub. L. No. 115-20, 131 Stat. 86).
The final rule only applies to Alaska national preserves, which are open to hunting, fishing, and trapping under federal and state law. There are ten national preserves in Alaska. National parks in Alaska are closed to all hunting except for subsistence uses by rural Alaska residents by law and this rule does not change that.
What They Are Saying
“NPS's decision to align their regulations adopted in 2015 are consistent with the Alaska Statehood Act and the deals Congress struck with Alaska during the passage of ANILCA in 1980. Federal law recognizes the state authority to manage public resources for sustainability on ALL lands in Alaska,” said Rod Arno, Executive Director, Alaska Outdoor Council. “Thanks to the leadership of the Trump Administration, the agencies can now focus on cooperating to meet the needs of science in management for those sustainable populations and public use of those resources consistent with all purposes stated in Section 101 of ANILCA.”
“Alaska's hunting guides rely on sustained yield management of Alaska's big game for their livelihoods,” stated Thor Stacey, Director of Government Affairs, Alaska Professional Hunters Association. “We are pleased to see that leadership at the Department of Interior seriously contemplated and acted on our petition and comments to walk back harmful rules that overstepped the state of Alaska's authority to manage its wildlife. This new rule represents a victory for wildlife conservation and all users who rely on wildlife.”
“The Association commends the National Park Service for amending this final rule which aligns federal regulations to the State of Alaska. This action clearly underlines the importance of hunting, trapping, fishing and wildlife watching to our national heritage,” said Kelly Hepler, President, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Secretary, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. “The state fish and wildlife agencies and the Association have a long history of cooperation with our federal partners that has resulted in many conservation successes. We look forward to continuing that partnership.”
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service for issuing this final rule that reaffirms the state management authority of fish and wildlife to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who is best positioned to manage and conserve these natural resources,” stated Jeff Crane, President, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “With an abundance of fish and wildlife, a significant number of sportsmen and women, and a considerable number of people who live a subsistent lifestyle, the management of Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources should be left to those at the closest level, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which is what this final rule seeks to do.”
“We very much appreciate the National Park Service reviewing this issue and having the mettle to correct a significant error. A founding principle of the Boone and Crockett Club is state control of habitat and wildlife management. This is a significant pillar of the conservation movement which has relied, from its beginning, on the scientific expertise within states,” said Tim Brady, President, Boone and Crockett Club. “As a born and raised Alaskan who recognizes the benefits of this final rule for my fellow citizens, I applaud the NPS and DOI for this appropriate recognition of state management authority.”
“This decision is most welcome to conservationists around the world,” stated Gray N. Thornton, President and CEO, Wild Sheep Foundation. “Our ability to conserve wild sheep depends on stable and effective regulations which are deeply rooted in the scientific expertise of state wildlife agencies. This rule reestablishes states as the primary authority for wildlife management not only in Alaska, but as it is for all states. Interior’s decision affirming this principle gives us hope that the historical strength of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation in the U.S. will remain in place for the benefit of future generations. The Wild Sheep Foundation commends the Department of Interior for this landmark decision.”
“The Mule Deer Foundation commends the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior on the final rule amending hunting and trapping regulations on Alaska National Preserves. In the vast lion’s share of cases, State wildlife agencies are the entities best positioned to collect and utilize sound science to inform and regulate the setting of hunting and fishing seasons, methods of take and other wildlife management decisions,” stated Miles Moretti, President and CEO, Mule Deer Foundation. “State wildlife agencies are also best positioned to receive and respond to the concerns of local stakeholders on these decisions. Today’s rule reestablishes the state of Alaska’s primacy of jurisdiction over the management of its wildlife and sets a positive precedent for the rest of the nation.”
“Safari Club International (SCI) is pleased to see the Department of the Interior revise a rule that restricted forms of hunting on National Preserves in Alaska. The Department of the Interior is taking the correct action today by withdrawing a rule adopted by the previous administration that had been based on the subjective views of the decision-makers, with complete disregard for biological need and the expertise of Alaska wildlife management experts,” said Laird Hamberlin, CEO, Safari Club International. “The Secretary’s action in ensuring the withdrawal of this rule should be celebrated not only by hunters, but by all those who understand the importance of sustainable use for wildlife management and conservation in Alaska. SCI hopes that this step will guide the way towards stronger cooperation between federal officials and state management authorities on all decision-making in Alaska that involves federal land and Alaska’s wildlife.”
“The National Trappers Association is grateful for the wisdom and insight for recognizing the validity of the state's ability to manage the wildlife within its boundaries through scientific-based regulated harvest practices that supports the heritage of hunting and trapping,” stated John Daniel, President, National Trappers Association.
“We're extremely happy to see the National Park Service take this action to restore and preserve state management authority over fish and wildlife in Alaska. The Sportsmen's Alliance has worked very hard to seek this change, both by filing a lawsuit against the prior Administration's rule, which this action will repeal, and by directly petitioning Department of Interior to make the changes necessary to maintain the necessary balance between state and federal management on National Preserves lands,” said Evan Heusinkveld, President and CEO, Sportsmen's Alliance. “Ensuring state biologists and wildlife managers are positioned to make meaningful decisions will ensure healthy, abundant and sustainable wildlife resources for generations to come.”
“We certainly appreciate the Department’s final rule on hunting and trapping regulations in Alaska. State wildlife agencies are a key partner in wildlife conservation and management across the United States and must play a central role in managing populations and establishing hunting and trapping regulations,” stated John Devney, Senior Vice President, Delta Waterfowl. “The new rule demonstrates the essential contributions of State wildlife managers in delivering scientific wildlife management while also ensuring abundant opportunities for sportsmen and women.”
“Arizona is a long way from Alaska geographically, but not philosophically when it comes to the State’s responsibility to scientifically manage wildlife within its borders, said Jim Unmacht, Executive Director, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation. “Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation is pleased to see the National Park Service, not only work together with the state of Alaska on an issue that is important and unique to them, but also aligning the focus and intent of governing rules and laws that are in effect for that state.”
Last updated: May 26, 2020