ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The state is firing back at the federal government for closing three areas to hunting and trapping in an effort to protect the black bear and wolf populations.
The temporary order from the National Park Service targets an area close to where Alaska Fish and Game biologists unintentionally shot and killed two collared wolves a couple of weeks ago.
Alaska Fish and Game said this is the first time in 30 years since the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that the National Park Service has acted to supercede state regulations by closing a state authorized hunting season that would have taken place right now.
"We are very disappointed with the Parks Service decision to move forward and close their preserve lands," said Tina Cunning, Special Assistant to the Commissioner in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The National Park Service temporarily banned hunting black bears in the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and Denali National Preserve April 15.
The Park Service temporarily banned the taking of wolves in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve April 14.
"We believe that was a risk to the overall population and the natural process that occur in the national preserve and also what could have been a poster problem if the animals continue to be taken for subsistence
opportunities in the area," said John Quinley, spokesperson for the National Park Service.
NPS officials proposed the closures in response to what they called a 43-percent decline in the wolf population and the taking of vulnerable denning sows and cubs that could potentially create pressure on the natural abundance of bears in the area.
But, according to Alaska Fish and Game, both the wolf and black bear populations are strong. "Our data from our biologists indicate and there was a great deal of effort that was looked into recently at the Board of Game meeting. In North Denali and Gates of the Arctic the black bear population is very healthy, at very abundant numbers," said Cunning.
Under ANILCA, the National Park Service has the authority to supercede state regulations in those areas. However, the state says there was not enough communication. "We asked for consultation with the state. That is part of the rule-making and we do not believe they gave us appropriate opportunities for that consultation," said Cunning.
The National Park Service said there was a public process. "We held public meetings in several communities. There was plenty of consultation, there is clearly not agreement but that's a different issue," said Quinley.
Fish and Game officials say some stakeholders were not present at the table, but one group says anytime there is a drop in population, it warrants an emergency temporary closure. "Where is the logic in eliminating or diminishing species and then making it impossible for future generations or for hunters the very next year to have a resource to even hunt," said Toby Smith, Executive Director with Alaska Center for the Environment.
The closures go into effect until May 31, 2010. According to NPS, there are no changes in the federal subsistence season—sport hunters are the ones affected.
Fish and Game says it is important this action by the National Park Service does not permanently damage a long standing relationship of cooperation and hope to set agreements about how consultation occurs in the future.