FAIRBANKS — Alaska’s Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said Thursday he is “very disappointed” with the National Park Service’s recent hunting and trapping closures in three Interior preserves, actions the federal agency said were necessary to protect bears and wolves.
“We have authority to manage wildlife populations, and these federal closures of state general and subsistence hunting and trapping are unjustified,” Lloyd stated in a news release. “Allowing park managers to supersede state regulations based on undefined ‘values’ is an unwarranted and confrontational intrusion upon the state’s management prerogatives.”
The Park Service announced Tuesday it had closed sport hunting and trapping of wolves in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. It also prohibited the killing of black bear sows and cubs in their dens using artificial light in parts of Denali National Preserve and Gates of the Arctic National Preserve. The den hunting was recently approved by the state Board of Game in portions of the two preserves.
Lloyd accused the Park Service of pursuing an “internal agenda” and said the closures are based on “poor interpretations of scant data.”
“We have shared with them information that clearly shows that bear and wolf populations in these areas are healthy, but they have apparently chosen to ignore these facts,” Lloyd said.
Spokesman John Quinley said the Park Service’s population numbers differ from those of the state. So, too, does the agency’s mandate to manage for natural processes and ecosystems, including natural fluctuations of wildlife populations on federal lands, he said.
The Department of Fish and Game, meanwhile, adheres to the state’s intensive management law, which directs game managers to manage for abundance and sustained yield of big game like moose and caribou.
“It gets back to the fundamental jurisdictional difference between federal law and what the governor and state Legislature wants the Department of Fish and Game to do,” Quinley said.
The three preserves were established the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which allowed general hunting within their boundaries. In Alaska’s national parks, only federally qualified subsistence hunters are allowed.
The bear hunting regulation adopted by the state Board of Game allowed anyone with a license to kill sows and cubs in their dens. The state emphasized, though, that the new rule accommodates a “customary and traditional practice” used by subsistence hunters.
“These means and methods, allowed by the Board of Game, recognize Alaska Native traditions and were justified because of the abundance of bear populations,” Craig Fleener, division of subsistence director, stated in the state’s news release.
That doesn’t automatically make them legal on federal land, Quinley said. No proposals have been submitted to the Federal Subsistence Board to allow such denning, he noted.
The rub between the two agencies began back in January when the state Board of Game adopted the new regulation allowing the taking of black bear sows and cubs in dens with the use of artificial light in two game management units that overlap the two federal preserves.
The Park Service submitted a proposal to the state Board of Game in March to amend the regulation to exclude federal land. Federal officials said the regulation was a method of predator control. The game board rejected the proposed amendment. Board chairman Cliff Judkins suggested the Park Service make its own rules regarding its land, if the agency didn’t like the state’s regulation.
“Most owners of land can control their land,” Judkins said to Gates of the Arctic Superintendent Greg Dudgeon after he addressed the board. “We’re not saying people can go on your land and do something you don’t want them to.”
In the state’s news release Thursday, Judkins called the Park Service closures “a blatant attempt to undermine our public process and may be a violation of ANILCA.”
“He appears to be contradicting himself,” Quinley said.
The strife between the two agencies intensified March 17 when state wildlife biologists working under a board-approved predator control effort shot and killed a pack of four wolves, including two wearing Park Service radio collars, near the Yukon-Charley preserve boundary. The wolves were part of a Park Service long-term research project.
State personnel had agreed not to shoot wolves with functioning collars. Because of a “series of misunderstandings,” the biologists did not detect a signal and so they shot the wolves, according to a later statement from both state and federal officials.
The loss of the Webber Creek pack, one of seven packs being studied, compelled the Park Service to close sport hunting and trapping of wolves because it “could further decrease the population and alter the preserve’s naturally functioning ecosystems,” according to a Park Service press release.
Park Service officials contend that the state’s predator control program on the edge of the preserve boundary could reduce the number of wolves with home ranges that extend into it, thereby reducing opportunity for subsistence users and wildlife viewers.
“We’ve seen a 43 percent drop in the wolf population from fall to spring, and we’ve lost a pack,” Quinley said. “We do not want the numbers to get lower. We would like to retain an opportunity for federally qualified subsistence users to continue to have an opportunity to take wolves.”
The Park Service did not close the subsistence hunting and trapping seasons, just the general seasons under state regulations.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.