The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately chose not to hear a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) authority to manage wildlife on national wildlife refuge land. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had upheld a 2016 FWS regulation that, among other things, prohibits brown bear baiting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
The state of Alaska argued that it has the authority to manage wildlife throughout the state, including federal wildlife refuges. The state authorized brown bear baiting on adjacent state land in 2013, leading to a 600% increase in mortality and raising concerns about the viability of the Kenai brown bear population. The FWS’s 2016 regulation clarified its long-standing prohibition on brown bear baiting in the refuge.
After the Supreme Court passed on the opportunity to hear the case, Defenders of Wildlife Alaska Program Director Nicole Whittington-Evans issued the following statement:
“The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a win for brown bears and biological diversity by refusing to hear an appeal of a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that prohibits brown bear baiting in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Bear baiting allows hunters to use donuts, dog food, bacon grease or other food to attract bears, making it much easier to shoot bears.
“When the state of Alaska first authorized brown bear baiting on Kenai Peninsula state lands, human-caused bear mortality rose six-fold, causing a significant decline in this isolated population and prompting emergency closures of bear hunting in the refuge. With this prohibition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can better ensure the sustainability of Kenai brown bears, fulfilling its responsibility to conserve biological integrity and diversity on our refuge lands.”
In April 2022, Defenders of Wildlife and a coalition of groups represented by the law firm Trustees for Alaska celebrated a win for brown bears when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 FWS rule prohibiting brown bear baiting in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The FWS has never allowed this activity but published a regulation to expressly prohibit it after the state decided to allow brown bear baiting on adjacent state lands. The state challenged the baiting prohibition in the refuge, and Defenders intervened in the case to defend FWS’s rule.