The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced plans to reconsider a crucial rule for Alaska’s hunters. The existing rule is so significant and egregious that SCI is now fighting it in court.
The rules that the FWS will reconsider appeared in the Federal Register (81 Fed. Reg. 27030, May 5, 2016) and became effective on June 6, 2016. The Kenai NWR rule makes it illegal for hunters and others to take part in activities that are authorized as legal under Alaska State law and regulation.
According to the FWS’s recent Federal Register notice, the existing Kenai NWR regulations:
(1) amended regulations regarding use of aircraft, motorboats, motorized vehicles, and snowmobiles;
(2) codified historic restrictions on hunting and trapping within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (WRA) consistent with the 2007 Skilak WRA final revised management plan;
(3) expanded a prohibition on the discharge of firearms to include areas of intensive public use along the Russian and Kenai Rivers;
(4) clarified the intent of existing regulations that require a special use permit for hunting black bears over bait by specifying that only the take of black bears is authorized under this requirement;
(5) amended regulations associated with camping, use of public use cabins, and public use facilities;
(6) established permanent regulations for managing wildlife attractants in the Russian River Special Management Area to reduce potential for human-bear conflicts; and
(7) established regulations allowing for noncommercial gathering of edible wild foods and shed antlers.
In January of 2017, SCI filed suit in federal district court in Alaska to challenge the legality of the Kenai NWR regulation. The State of Alaska has filed its own suit challenging the same rule. Both SCI and the State of Alaska’s lawsuits also include challenges to National Park Service regulations restricting hunting on all National Preserves in Alaska.
The FWS’s Oct. 2, 2017 Federal Register notice does not provide a public comment opportunity. The notice explains that the public will be given an opportunity to comment once the FWS publishes a proposed rule, based on its reconsideration of the existing Kenai NWR regulations.
The FWS explains that, in reviewing the existing Kenai NWR rules, the FWS will consider the purposes of Secretary Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3347, entitled “Conservation Stewardship and Outdoor Recreation.” That Secretarial Order mandates “enhanced conservation stewardship, increased opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, for all Americans, and improved management of game species and their habitat.” The FWS also promises to “identify ways to improve cooperation, consultation, and communication with State of Alaska wildlife managers regarding recreational hunting and fishing.”
SCI is very pleased with this new development. SCI will, however, continue to press its lawsuit as long as the Kenai regulations are in place. SCI will keep all members apprised of news related to this rulemaking process.