In moves designed to counter Alaska's current approach to wildlife management, National Park Service officials in that state are instituting hunting and trapping bans to protect wolves and bears in their parks and preserves.
Alaska's approach to wildlife management has been described by critics as designed to reduce predator populations so there will be more game animals, such as caribou and moose, for hunters.
Earlier this year, a four-member wolf pack from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve was killed by state predator control agents. More recently, the state adopted a regulation over Park Service objections that allows black bear hunters to use artificial lighting in hunting sows and cubs at den sites inside national preserves. (Note: While hunting generally is prohibited within national parks, national preserves often are open to hunting and, in some cases, even energy development.)
In response to the state's actions, as of Wednesday, April 14, the Park Service will temporary close Yukon-Charley Rivers to the taking of wolves. At the same time, a ban on taking of black bear sows and cubs in Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and in Denali National Park and Preserve cubs at a den site while using artificial light will also take effect Wednesday, the Park Service announced.
The Park Service explained that the temporary closures were necessary due to a significant drop in Yukon-Charley Rivers' wolf population and to support the agency's responsibility for managing "naturally functioning ecosystems."
The Yukon-Charley closure, under the procedures of 36 CFR 13.40 and 13.50, will provide for the protection of wolves and wolf packs in the preserve, while ensuring the opportunity for federally qualified rural residents to continue to take wolves under federal subsistence hunting and trapping regulations.
On NPS-managed lands, natural processes are expected to take place, including natural fluctuations of wildlife populations. Predator control activities occurring outside the preserve have potential implications for wolves with home ranges in Yukon-Charley. The NPS has monitored wolves since 1993, obtaining detailed data on wolf population dynamics and home ranges. A normal decline from fall and spring populations ranges from 11 percent to 37 percent due to natural mortality, dispersal and hunting and trapping.
To date, this year’s decline in the population of wolves in packs that frequent the preserve is 43 percent, including the loss of an entire pack, bringing the total number of wolves with home ranges in the preserve to 26. The closure is based on concern that additional spring sport hunting and trapping in the preserve and the potential for additional predator control action outside the preserve could further decrease the population and alter the preserve’s naturally functioning ecosystems.
The temporary closure runs through May 31, 2010.
The National Park Service is also moving today to prohibit hunting practices recently made legal under state general hunting regulations for portions of Denali and Gates of the Arctic National Preserves.
These closures provide that artificial light may not be used to take a black bear at a den site (except to retrieve a dead bear or dispatch a wounded bear), and that bear cubs or a sow accompanied by a cub may not be taken at a den site.
Within certain state game management units, these practices are open to all Alaska residents and, because of that, provide increased efficiency for the taking of vulnerable denning sows and cubs and a potential to create pressures on natural abundance, behavior, distribution and ecological integrity of this species. Additionally, the state provisions pose unacceptable impacts to the purposes and values of the preserve as established by Congress in 1980. The Congressional record states the “standard in regulating the taking of fish and wildlife is that the preeminent natural values of the Park System shall be protected in perpetuity and shall not be jeopardized by human uses.”
The use of lights for hunting, and the taking of sows and cubs at dens, have historically been prohibited under state law, but were recently authorized in two game management units which overlap portions of the two preserves. While the state Board of Game cited customary and traditional subsistence practices by some Alaska residents in allowing these bear hunting methods, subsistence hunting in NPS units is authorized for federally qualified rural residents under rules adopted by the Federal Subsistence Board.
A NPS request to the Alaska Board of Game in March 2010 to exempt the preserves from these practices by amending the state regulations was unsuccessful.
Additional information on the wolf hunting closure at Yukon-Charley Rivers, and bear hunting restrictions at Denali and Gates of the Arctic are available at www.nps.gov/akso under the Compendium link.
At the National Parks Conservation Association, officials were thrilled to see the Park Service take these steps, reiterating that they have long said that the state of Alaska's intensive management policies cannot override the Park Service’s wildlife management mandates to maintain healthy and natural populations of bears and wolves on NPS lands.
"For years, the state of Alaska has had their way with wildlife management in Alaska’s national preserves," said Jim Stratton, NPCA's senior regional director. "We are totally psyched that the Park Service is finally putting a stop to bad ideas like shooting black bear cubs in their dens and taking too many wolves in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve."