On 3 April 2017, President Trump signed H.J. Res. 69, a joint U.S. House and Senate resolution nullifying Obama-era regulations banning the use of “predator control” hunting methods on the 76.8 million acres of federally-protected national wildlife refuges across Alaska.
The repealed restrictions were enacted in 2016 by the Fish and Wildlife Service after years of disputes between the U.S. government and the state of Alaska over the legality of such practices as bear baiting, hunting via aircraft, killing hibernating bears, and “denning” (killing wolves, coyotes, and offspring in their dens) on or near federally protected lands.
In an impassioned call to action, the Humane Society of the United States had condemned the bill, which they said ought to “shock the conscience of every animal lover in America”:
The U.S. House of Representatives overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that stopped a set of appalling and unsporting predator control methods on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. These egregious practices include shooting or trapping wolves while at their dens with cubs, using airplanes to scout for grizzly bears to shoot, trapping bears with cruel steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares and luring grizzly bears with food to get a point blank kill. Republicans, with only a few dissents, provided the votes for the measure, which passed by a vote of 225 to 193.
In reality, some of those practices were already prohibited to sport hunters under Alaska law, and some, including hunting coyotes in their dens and killing hibernating bears and cubs, were restricted to subsistence hunters (and permitted to qualified subsistence hunters even under federal regulations).
The deeper issue all along was state vs. federal control of wildlife management. Despite support from scientific, environmental, and animal welfare advocacy groups, the federal restrictions were considered intrusive and unwarranted by many Alaskans. The state filed a lawsuit in January 2017 contending that the rules amounted to federal overreach, harming the ecosystem and citizens of Alaska. With the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club International, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced H.J. Res. 69 in February 2017 to redress what he termed a “wrongful seizure of authority”:
From the beginning, I said I would do everything in my power to overturn this illegal jurisdictional power grab by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, we’re one step closer to delivering on that commitment and eliminating a wrongful seizure of Alaska’s fish and wildlife management authority. I’m thankful to all those that played a role in moving this important resolution of disapproval, including that countless state and local stakeholders that worked with me to fight a very serious and alarming overreach by the Executive Branch. I look forward to seeing the swift consideration of H.J. Res. 69 in the Senate.
Although passage of the law (i.e., repeal of the federal restrictions) won’t likely result in a sudden increase in the slaughter of hibernating bears or denning wolves, it will make it much more difficult for the U.S. government to intervene in such matters in the future, which remains a serious concern to animal welfare and wildlife protection groups.
In May 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed an almost identical rule change rolling back the same prohibitions in National Park Service regulations that apply to hunting on national preserve lands.
Update [25 May 2018]: Added mention of a May 2018 National Park Service proposal to roll back similar hunting prohibitions on national preserve lands.