The Fight for Alaska Wildlife Continues

The right for Alaska to manage their own moose and other wildlife is now a political football. Photo provided by author

It used to be wildlife conservation issues were not particularly bipartisan in nature. The “Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus,” with nearly 300 members, has almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. As such, the CSC has grown into one of the largest and most effective caucuses in the US Congress and is usually the sportsmen’s ally and first line of defense in Washington protecting and advancing hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

Not so anymore. The outcome of the last election so surprised and so angered the leaders of the losing party, even fighting back or withholding votes on conservation issues which would ordinarily fly through the legislative process are being stymied for purely political reasons.

The Obama Administration was the most anti-fish and anti-wildlife conservation ever. Due to efforts of the Sportsman’s Caucus and others, few pieces of actual legislation were pushed through; rather, the administration, through executive orders and bureaucratic decrees, promulgated dozens of regulations thwarting proven fish and wildlife conservation practices to satisfy their animal rights extremist supporters.

Much of interior Alaska was historically never transferred to state or private ownership since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. Over time, sort of like you designate one room of your house as the living room and other rooms as bedrooms, the feds made some of their Alaskan lands National Wildlife Refuges and other huge tracts were delineated as preserves administered by the National Park Service.

However, just because the federal government owns the land, it doesn’t own the fish and wildlife living on the land. The feds only own migratory birds and creatures specifically listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Act. Individual states own all other wildlife. That’s why states can make hunting laws that apply on private land, state properties and federally owned acreage such as national forests here in the Midwest and Bureau of Land Management tracts out west.

Except in Alaska. On his final day in office the Obama Secretary of the Interior wrote a resolution taking the ownership and management of Alaska’s wildlife away from the state on federal lands designated as National Wildlife Refuges.

Specifically designed to prevent such last minute maneuvers by outgoing bureaucrats, it only takes a simple majority to overturn such actions if the regulation is less than 60 days old. That’s why the congress was able to cancel that regulation and restore Alaska’s right to manage Alaska’s native wildlife on refuges. The measure breezed through both houses and the president signed it.

Earlier (more than 60 days) similar, misguided management rules had been put in place by the Department of the Interior for Alaskan federal preserves managed by the National Parks Service. This late in the game, it will take 60 votes in the Senate to overturn the rule. With the Democratic party united to stop any legislation supported by the majority party (and only 52 republican senators) this is unlikely. Regardless of whether a legislator is aligned with the CSC, regardless of how pro-hunting or fishing, regardless of how conservation minded he or she may be, the Democrat legislators are proving they are politicians first, representatives for their constituencies and states second.

The legal battle isn’t over. The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, along with the Alaska Professional Hunter’s Association, filed suit in February to negate the anti-wildlife management rule changes and return management decisions to Alaska Department of Fish and Game and their wildlife biologists.

“The North American model of wildlife conservation has resulted in the proliferation of wildlife and wildlands nationwide for more than a century – including Alaska. With such proven and positive results, it only makes sense to continue using the same model in Alaska,” said Sportsmen’s Alliance President, Evan Heusinkveld.

A look at the list of those opposing proven scientific wildlife management in Alaska reads like a who’s who of big-money animal-rights organizations: Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Wilderness Society and others. Combined, these groups have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend to advance their agenda of ending hunting, trapping and other time-tested wildlife management efforts.

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Mike Schoonveld

Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest.

Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike’s Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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