Interior Department, key House Republicans maneuver to open National Park Service lands to killing grizzly bears, wolves
In April, President Trump signed a resolution, enabled by the Congressional Review Act and passed by Congress on a near party-line vote, that repealed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rule restricting particularly cruel and unsporting methods of killing grizzly bears, wolves, and other predators on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. There are now multiple indications that the Trump administration and some allies in Congress are gearing up to unwind a nearly identical rule, approved nearly two years ago, that restricts these appalling predator-killing practices on 20 million acres of National Park Service (NPS) lands in Alaska. Our humane community nationwide must ready itself to stop this second assault on a class of federal lands (national preserves) set aside specifically to benefit wildlife.
Today, the Sacramento Bee’s Stuart Leavenworth broke the story that Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) had obtained a leaked memo that appears to show that senior political appointees at the Department of the Interior have barred top officials at NPS from speaking out against a widely circulated draft bill in Congress – the SHARE Act – that includes a provision to repeal the parks rule. The bill, which will be assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources, contains a host of anti-wildlife provisions. Top officials at NPS reviewed the bill and objected to many provisions, and memorialized those objections in an internal memo. A senior Interior Department official sent back the memo to the NPS officials with cross-out markings on nearly all of the objections raised by the NPS. That helps explain why lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not heard a negative word from the NPS about this legislative package and its provisions that amount to an assault on the wildlife inhabiting Alaska’s national preserves.
Several weeks prior, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had signaled his desire to reopen the NPS predator control rule, with an eye toward changing and even gutting it. The rule passed with almost no dissent when NPS adopted it in October 2015.
In short, there is a double-barreled attack on the rule, and the administration seems to be locked and loaded on both strategies – one legislative and the other executive.
In March, the House voted 225 to 193 in favor of H.J. Resolution 69, authored by Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, to repeal the USFWS rule on predator killing. Those 225 members voted to overturn a federal rule – years in the works, and crafted by professional wildlife managers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – to stop some of the most appalling practices ever imagined in the contemporary era of wildlife management. Denning of wolf pups, killing hibernating bears, baiting grizzly bears, and trapping grizzly and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps and snares. It’s the stuff of wildlife snuff films.
Just weeks later, the Senate followed suit, passing S.J.R. 18 by a vote of 52 to 47. I was so proud of New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, himself an ardent sportsman, and Sens. Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., for deconstructing the phony arguments advanced by the backers of the measure. If they had been arguing the case in front of a jury, they would have carried every fair-minded juror considering the evidence and honoring a standard of decency. They eviscerated the phony states’ rights arguments advanced by their colleagues. Their false subsistence hunting arguments. Their inaccurate representations of the views of Alaskans.
President Trump then signed H.R. Res. 69/S.J.R. 18 and repealed the USFWS rule.
The USFWS rule was at particular risk because it had been adopted in 2016, and the Congressional Review Act allows Congress and the president to nullify recently adopted rules with simple majority votes in both chambers and no committee review of the measures. The nearly identical NPS rule came out a year earlier and the CRA doesn’t apply to such long-standing rules. In short, the Department of the Interior could weaken the rule by opening a new rulemaking process, or Congress could repeal it (albeit without the expedited review and also perhaps without a simple majority vote in the Senate).
Today’s reporting by the Sacramento Bee, and the work of PEER, have sent up a flare, warning the world that there is maneuvering to launch an unacceptable assault on wildlife on National Park Service lands. Hunting grizzly bears over bait, killing wolves in their dens, and other similarly unsporting practices have no place anywhere on North American lands, and least of all on refuges and preserves. We’ll need you to raise your voice and write to your lawmakers, urging them to block any serious consideration of the SHARE Act in its current form. And tell Secretary Zinke that’s there’s no honor and no sportsmanship in allowing these practices on national preserves.