“Victory! A federal district court in Alaska has delivered a win for brown bears and other wildlife on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Allowing brown bearbaiting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is inconsistent with the federal government’s responsibility to manage these public lands for biological integrity and diversity,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife.
A coalition of groups hailed a federal court decision last week that upheld a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that enshrines the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s long-standing prohibition on brown bear baiting, along with its decades-long approach of managing the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and education.
The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within Refuges.
“Victory! A federal district court in Alaska has delivered a win for brown bears and other wildlife on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife.
In its ruling in State of Alaska v. Bernhardt, released on Friday, Nov. 13, the U.S. District Court upheld most portions of the rule, including the ban on brown bear baiting and emphasis on wildlife viewing in the Skilak area.
The nonprofit law firm Trustees for Alaska filed a motion to intervene on behalf of 15 clients in February 2017, arguing along with the Fish and Wildlife Service that the agency has an obligation to manage wildlife refuges for biological health and diversity, and necessarily has the authority to do so.
The court vacated the portion of the rule that prohibited the use of certain firearms along the heavily-used Kenai and Russian River corridors. The court held that, while the agency reasonably adopted the rule to protect public safety, it failed to adequately explain its decision to not evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the restriction.
While this is an important win for Kenai brown bears, the Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed a rule that would allow brown bear baiting within the Kenai Refuge for the first time ever. Trustees for Alaska is working with partners to encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to drop the proposal and continue to protect Kenai brown bears, other wildlife, and recreational uses that include wildlife viewing.
Whittington-Evans noted, “Allowing brown bear baiting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is inconsistent with the federal government’s responsibility to manage these public lands for biological integrity and diversity.”
Trustees represents the following clients in the case: The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Alaskans for Wildlife, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Denali Citizens Council, Copper Country Alliance, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Humane Society of the United States.