WASHINGTON — Baiting grizzly bears with doughnuts soaked in bacon grease. Using spotlights to blind and shoot hibernating black bear mothers and their cubs in their dens. Gunning down swimming caribou from motorboats.
Hunting methods that for years were decried by wildlife protectors and finally banned as barbaric by the Obama administration will be legal again on millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness in time for the warm July weather.
The National Park Service policy published the new rules in the Federal Register on Tuesday, reversing Obama administration rules and giving trophy hunters, outfitters and Alaskans 30 days to prepare to return to national preserves in Alaska with the revived practices. Among the reinstated tactics: killing wolves and coyotes, including pups, during the season when mothers wean their young, and using dogs to hunt bears.
Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority under the Trump administration, and an issue championed by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter. In February the Safari Club International, which promotes big-game hunting, auctioned a weeklong “dream hunt” through Alaska with the president’s son as part of its annual convention.
Hunting advocates and Alaska state leaders had opposed the Obama-era restrictions as an encroachment on states’ rights and an infringement on their livelihoods. Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a Republican, accused the previous administration of leading an “attack on our unique game management authority” protected under state and federal law.
Eddie Grasser, director of wildlife conservation for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the tactics would be used sparingly, and mainly by subsistence hunters.
“Most of our towns and villages are not real connected,” he said. “You have to fly in and fly out. Living off the land is a critical component of rural Alaska lifestyle, so those methods that people are upset about, and I understand why and I understand the misconception, the fact is those are primarily methods that are used by subsistence users in the state of Alaska.”
“The regular hunters in the state don’t hunt that way and neither do the residents that are coming in especially ones that are guided,” he said.
Animal rights and wildlife protection groups condemned the rule as allowing inhumane trophy hunting of wild brown and black bears.
“This would allow extreme cruel killing methods on over 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska,” said Laura Smythe, a staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States.
The initial dispute stemmed from conflicting approaches over how Alaska manages predators in the state. The Alaska board of game allows such baiting tactics to kill bears and wolves in order to ensure enough moose, caribou and other game are available for hunters. The National Park Service, however, is charged with protecting wildlife populations including predators like bears.
In 2015 the Obama administration codified the Park Service’s role by enacting a rule that eliminated sport hunting and trapping on federal public lands in Alaska. The new rule says state hunting regulations should take priority over federal ones.
“This rule acknowledges this longstanding deference to state law required by statute in removing the hunting and trapping prohibitions identified in this rule,” the Park Service rule said.
President Trump’s first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman who displayed a stuffed bear in his Washington office, signed an order to expand recreational opportunities on public lands, including hunting and fishing. Park service officials later cited that order as the reason for overturning the ban.
The rule was opposed by a bipartisan group of 79 members of Congress and hundreds of scientists who said there was “little scientific evidence” that relaxing hunting rules for predators and allowing baiting techniques would increase the availability of other game.
“We have never opposed hunting, but this can hardly be considered hunting,” said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association. “To be going into dens of hibernating bears and killing cubs and killing moms certainly is, I don’t think, the picture most people have of hunting.”
The Safari Club, which lobbied in favor of the rule, did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2017 Mr. Trump condemned trophy hunting as a “horror show.” But in the years since his administration reversed Obama-era restrictions on the import of elephant and lion trophies from some African countries.