ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – Killing brown bears at bait stations would be legal for the first time in Alaska’s most-visited national wildlife refuge, under a proposed rule released on Wednesday by the Trump administration.
The new rule for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge would also allow trapping, more discharge of firearms and increased motor-vehicle access.
The proposed rule change adheres to the Department of the Interior’s priorities “to increase recreational access on the lands and waters it administers” and to harmonize federal and state management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in its online notice to be published in the Federal Register.
Using bait stations to hunt brown bears has never been allowed in the 1.9 million-acre (769,000-hectare) Kenai refuge, a service spokeswoman said.
The state’s all-Republican congressional delegation and Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy support the rule change.
“Aligning state and federal management regulations in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is common sense,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said in an emailed statement.
Environmentalists blasted the move.
“This unwarranted policy reversal would set a dangerous precedent for the National Wildlife Refuge System and could threaten the sustainability of the isolated population of Kenai brown bears in Alaska,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.
The proposed Kenai refuge rule change, subject to a 30-day public review, is among a series of conservation rollbacks recently announced or enacted by Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday, the administration overturned an Obama-era ban on several contentious hunting practices in Alaska’s national preserves. Practices that will now be allowed there include bear-baiting, the killing of bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens, use of artificial lights to hunt at dens and hunting of swimming caribou.
One environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, said on Wednesday it intended to sue to block the Kenai refuge rule change and the new rule loosening hunting restrictions in Alaska’s national preserves.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)