Washington, DC January 8, 2019 – Its incoming governor wants the U.S. Department of Interior to drop an array of its policies protecting wildlife, habitat, and wilderness in the State of Alaska, according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The wide-ranging demands would also roll back safeguards for endangered species, marine mammals, and predator-prey balance.
In a January 2, 2019 letter to Deputy U.S. Interior Secretary Bernhardt, Alaska’s acting commissioner of Fish and Game, Doug Vincent-Lang conveys a 41-page laundry list of concessions the administration of Governor Mike Dunleavy seeks. Vincent-Land is treasurer of Safari Club International Alaska Chapter and a director of the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska, a pro-hunting group.
Vincent-Land’s letter claims that federal policies in the nearly 200-million acres of Interior lands in Alaska are “causing conflict” by making it “increasingly difficult for the public to hunt and trap” and that they are a “moving target” creating the need for a “whack-a-mole exercise.” To remedy that, he asks for what amounts to a wholesale suspension of federal decision-making and deferral to state game policies.
“Alaska Fish and Game appears to have become a province of the Safari Club International,” remarked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that while located in Alaska these federal lands are supposed to be managed for interests beyond only those of Alaska hunters and trappers. “Alaska is telling the federal government, give us your money but stay the hell out of our state.”
The request includes statutory amendments and suspension of regulations and policies governing national park lands, wildlife refuges, as well as habitat protections for federally listed threatened and endangered species. Specific items address a wide range of predator control and conservation issues, including –
Exempting Alaska from rules protecting eligible wilderness;
Suspending the Fish & Wildlife Service policy for Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental health on refuges; and
Equating economic impacts with biological need in designating critical habitats.
A central premise of Vincent-Lang’s pitch is that there is no inherent conflict between wildlife viewing, on one hand, and hunting and trapping, on the other. The most recent state analysis found that wildlife tourism had more than twice the economic value to Alaska as hunting. Hunting and trapping outside Denali National Park and preserve, for example, has greatly reduced visitor success in viewing wolves in the wild – one of Alaska’s biggest tourism draws.
“Unfortunately, wildlife conservation in Alaska is hurtling back to the Dark Ages,” stated Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member, noting that the state wish list reflects the longstanding agendas of oil, mining, and timber corporations, as well as outside trophy hunters. “If I were a wolf or a bear in Alaska right now, I would be headed for the Canadian border, ASAP.”
Alaska’s demands come as departing Secretary Ryan Zine had signaled Interior’s desire to defer to state game agencies though a series of “Good Neighbor” pronouncements.