From failing to protect the rusty patched bumblebee to greenlighting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the new White House administration is already developing a bit of a poor reputation when it comes to the environment. Now, Republicans are leading an attempt to overturn a rule that prohibits hunters from shooting bears and wolves from helicopters, trapping them in snares, and gassing their dens in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.
The federal law was put in place last September by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect the predators in Alaska’s 30.7 million hectares (76 million acres) of federal reserves. Up until that point, it was legal for hunters to use snares to trap wolves and bears, planes and helicopters to scout and shoot them, bait to lure bears to make them easier targets, and to gas bear and wolf denning sites, killing adults, cubs, and pups alike on federal reserves.
Republicans are arguing that these extreme hunting methods, termed “intensive predator management”, are necessary in order to boost the populations of moose and caribou so that Alaskan hunters have more to hunt. Last week, Congress voted 225-193, roughly along party lines, to roll back the law.
The overturning of the bill is being led in Congress by Republican Don Young from Alaska, who argues that this move is really about the federal government overstepping its mark. “We have to recognize this is not about the little polar bears, the little grizzly bears or wolves on television, this is about the state's right to manage – not allowing the federal government to do so,” said Young. “We want to be able to take and manage our fish and game for the sustainable yield – so that our fish and game will be there forever.”
But others are arguing that the whole point of the reserves and the role of the USFWS is to protect the natural environment and conserve the wildlife living within it, including the predators. It has been shown time and again that predators are an essential part of any sustainable ecosystem, providing an essential service by preventing the boom of prey species, which can radically alter and damage an otherwise healthy ecosystem.
Others have also pointed out that these are federal reserves – to be protected and preserved for all Americans – and not just to provide recreation and sustenance for hunters residing in Alaska. Hunting is obviously a way of life for many people in the state, but those in favor of the law argue that wildlife tourism that depends on a healthy ecosystem, brings in over $2 billion annually, five times that from hunting.
The House resolution, H.J Res. 69, is now to pass to the Senate, which is also controlled by the Republicans, before being passed to the President who will sign it into law.