Donald Trump’s administration has proposed scrapping rules that ban hunters from killing wolves and pups in their dens, hunting black bears with dogs and using bait to lure grizzly bears into the open.
An Obama-era stricture blocked the practices, dubbed “appalling” by campaigners, on federal lands in Alaska but was at odds with the state’s own policy.
The rollback is being pushed by interior secretary Ryan Zinke, an avid hunter. It may mean hunters being allowed to resume the practice of using spotlights outside the dens of black bear sows and their cubs to make it easier to kill them, government documents showed.
They could also use motor boats to hunt swimming caribou, another of the methods banned three years ago, if the change is implemented.
It is the latest in a line of environmental and other measures introduced by Mr Obama that Mr Trump has moved to scrap. They have included restrictions on emissions from coal burning, US participation in the Paris climate agreement and water pollution rules.
Last November the billionaire’s administration lifted a ban on the importation of elephant hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In 2005, Alaska began allowing grizzly-baiting for the first time since it gained statehood as part of a predator-control programme to boost populations of big game animals popular with hunters such as moose in the state’s vast interior.
Hunters have used anything from stale doughnuts and lard to dog food mixed with honey to attract the animals into the open and make them easier to shoot.
The proposal to scrap the 2015 restrictions would give state wildlife managers the discretion to decide what kinds of bear-hunting methods are permitted across 20 million acres of national preserve lands.
Congressman Don Young, a Republican, called the 2015 rules “an illegal Obama-era power grab”.
Kitty Block, of the Humane Society of America, said the methods the Obama administration outlawed were “some of the worst and most appalling”. Mr Zinke’s plan would mean “handing over some of our most precious wildlife to trophy hunters”, she added.
Anna Frostic, a lawyer for the animal rights group, told NBC News: “These federal lands are havens for wildlife and the National Park Service [NPS] is mandated to manage these ecosystems in a manner that promotes conservation.
“This proposed rule, which would allow inhumane killing of our native carnivores in a misguided attempt to increase trophy hunting opportunities, is unlawful and must not be finalised.”
The NPS, part of Mr Zinke’s Department of the Interior, said its proposed rule would bring sport hunting regulations in national preserves in line with those of the state, “in furtherance of” two orders already signed by the secretary.
The purpose of those orders was, in part, to “increase outdoor recreation” including hunting and ”improve the management of game species and their habitat”, NPS said. Mr Zinke had directed “greater collaboration with state, tribe, and territorial partners”, it said in the document announcing the proposed new rule.
“NPS has reconsidered its earlier conclusions and determined that these previously prohibited practices can be allowed consistent with the goal of aligning its rules with those of the state,” the agency added.
It had previously decided bear-baiting was biologically unsound, potentially unsafe, and inconsistent with federal laws.
Environmental groups immediately attacked the new proposal, saying bear-baiting and other hunting and trapping practices the measure would permit are inhumane and disruptive to the natural predator-prey dynamic in Alaska’s preserves.
But Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Alaska senator, said that making decisions on hunting was “clearly our right and our responsibility, and Alaskans take that very seriously”. She added, according to The Washington Post: “I thank the administration for recognising this and working to properly align federal regulations.”
Democrat Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, said the plan was “outrageous” and said the hunting practices had “no place in our national forests”. He added in a video posted to Twitter: “Without wildlife, national parks are just scenery. This is what draws people.
“It is immoral because these animals suffer. It’s ecologically a disaster because these are the species that keep things in balance.”
Mr Zinke’s roll-back plan
The list of practices previously banned
- Taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites
- Harvesting brown bears over bait
- Taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season
- Taking swimming caribou
- Taking caribou from motorboats under power
- Taking black bears over bait
- Using dogs to hunt black bears
Alaska officials have said that increased killing of predators such as grizzlies was necessary to increase opportunities for successful hunting of moose and other game creatures favoured by sport hunters.
Americans have until 23 July to make comments on the plans.
Additional reporting by agencies