Federal wildlife refuges are not up for grabs

Alaska’s attempt to intrude on federal wildlife refuges has incensed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for good reason.

 

Among the many talents of Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are statesmanship and restraint. It’s hard to tell when he’s angry. But when we talked in March, he was seething.

The source of his ire: Wildlife managers in some states are seeking to oust federal management and take control themselves. Inciting the rebellion is Alaska.

Alaska kills off wolves, grizzlies and black bears in a vain attempt to convert the state to an ever-expanding Stop-and-Shop for moose and caribou hunters. It has directed managers to gun down wolves and all bears from helicopters, and to gas wolf pups in dens. It has authorized private citizens to shoot wolves from airplanes, to hunt and trap wolves when pelts are worthless and pups helpless, and to bait, trap and snare grizzlies. It has allowed hunters to fly into grizzly and black bear habitat and shoot them the same day and to sell the body parts of black bears.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service usually allows states to regulate hunting on national wildlife refuges, though it doesn’t have to. The agency tried to work things out with the Alaska Board of Game. But when the grizzly slaughter on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge threatened survival of the population, the refuge closed grizzly hunting. Alaska’s game board responded by escalating, where possible, its war on predators.

Skilak Glacier and Glacial Lake, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
Steve Hillebrand/CC Wikimedia Commons

So the Wildlife Service proposed a rule restricting the state’s more destructive predator-control measures on national wildlife refuges. In response, Alaska’s predator controllers have taken their case to the Association of (state) Fish and Wildlife Agencies, whipping members into a froth of paranoia about imagined federal overreach.

The state association’s mission is to advance scientific wildlife management in partnership with federal agencies. Instead, it and organizations supposedly representing sportsmen have been sounding like the Bundy militia.

In a Feb. 19 letter to the Wildlife Service’s Ashe, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Rifle Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation and Wildlife Management Institute, wrote, “A national application of this rule would universally derogate state fish and wildlife agency authority to manage fish and wildlife on national wildlife refuges.” As if Ashe were considering a national application, and as if states ever had such authority.

Gary Taylor, legislative director emeritus of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, has warned members that the rule “would promulgate into regulation the Fish and Wildlife Service Policy on biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.” As if this were somehow contrary to sportsmen’s interests.

And the association’s current director, Ron Regan, complained to the U.S. Senate that “the rule would usurp Alaska’s authority to manage fish and wildlife for sustained yield” on national wildlife refuges. As if there were anything to “usurp,” and as if Alaska manages predators sustainably.

The courts are clear on who tends national wildlife refuges. When Wyoming wanted to vaccinate elk for brucellosis on the National Elk Refuge, the Wildlife Service said no. Wyoming sued and lost. When Alaska wanted to fly into wilderness to kill the wolves of Unimak Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Wildlife Service said no. Alaska sued and lost.

Courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Ashe told me this: “In considering our proposed Alaska rule, I’m asking calmer minds to consider a few hypothetical questions.

“Is it not at least conceivable that the (Fish and Wildlife) Service and the National Park Service (which has proposed a similar Alaska rule) are acting in response to provocation by the Alaska Board of Game? Is it not possible that it was politically motivated and unilateral action by the Alaska Board of Game that disrupted a decades-long and highly successful partnership in cooperative management in Alaska?

“Perhaps … one might want to hear other opinions, like those of Dr. Vic Van Ballenberghe, a wildlife biologist and former Alaska Board of Game member, who says, ‘State efforts to apply the extreme predator reduction measures to national wildlife refuge lands might well be called state overreach.’ Or maybe the views of former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, who calls the new predator management practices ‘unscientific and unethical.’”

Why the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and some of its allies feel constrained to defend Alaska’s 1920s-style jihad against predators on federal lands is puzzling and distressing. 

In the words of ecologist-philosopher Aldo Leopold, “Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: It was to drip milk and honey into Abraham’s mouth.” The Alaska Board of Game shares this biblical land ethic. What it hasn’t figured out is that killing off predators in a reckless and bloody war will never create a hunters’ paradise.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a freelance writer and former employee of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: