Fish and Wildlife takes 77 million acres

Areas in the Aleutian chain that are subject to the new rule preventing predator control by the State of Alaska.
Areas in the Aleutian chain that are subject to the new rule preventing predator control by the State of Alaska. More than 77 million acres have been taken away from State predator management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


It’s our land, the feds say. And with the swoosh of a pen, another 77 million acres is now off limits to State of Alaska wildlife management practices.

The final ruling came yesterday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The State remained silent as it yielded the sovereignty it was guaranteed at Statehood to federal control.

By taking management of fish and wildlife away from the State, the federal government broke another of its Statehood Act promises, and rural Alaskans lost even more access to subsistence.

The State of Alaska stood by and kicked at the dirt.

Fish and Wildlife’s action came on top of the 20 million acres already taken by the U.S. Park Service just a few months ago. In October, the Park Service overrode Alaska regulations pertaining to fish, wildlife and, specifically, to predator control. The Bureau of Land Management jumped in on the action and took yet another million acres in the Fortymile Area last month.

Nearly one hundred million acres gone from state management in six months.

The State of Alaska has fought this in the past because comprehensive management of fish and game is, quite clearly in law, a State right promised by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

But in 2016, the State seems to have lost its will to fight the federal government on just about anything. Under the Gov. Walker Administration, the federal bureaucracy has moved in, and State sovereignty has stepped back.

Strangely, the final rule by Fish and Wildlife Service applies only to Alaska refuge land, not to other states. While the congressional delegation had asked FWS for an exemption for Alaska, what the agency instead did was make an example out of the state. Similar rules in other states will likely follow.

The Walker Administration remained mute. Why not file an injunction? Attorney General Craig Richards, who stepped down in June, said that no one had been harmed by this rule, therefore no legal action could be taken. One would need another John Sturgeon to step forward and file a lawsuit, he implied.

Another John Sturgeon will be hard to find. Most people aren’t willing, nor do they have the resources, to fight the federal government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brown bear sow with cub at sunrise in Kodiak Photo Credit Lisa Hupp/USFWS
Brown bear sow with cub in Kodiak. Photo, Lisa Hupp/USFWS


Alaska has more than half of the wildlife refuges in the nation. When ANILCA was written, it was done so in such a way that refuges encompassed huge ecosystems. The priority, as intended by ANILCA, was to ensure that wildlife remained abundant and subsistence hunting could continue. And that management would be comprehensively run by the State of Alaska.

But under the new FWS rules, the interpretation is to prioritize preservation without human intervention. With no predator management, the equilibrium will now shift in favor of wolves, coyote, and bear. Their population will take priority over human subsistence. The State can no longer intervene to manipulate a population, such as thin a pack of coyotes so that more Dall sheep lamb will survive to reverse the currently declining sheep populations in large areas of Alaska, or thin a wolf pack to ensure more moose or caribou.

Alaska game managers know that without predator control, the moose and caribou populations will actually decrease.

The new rules say that if a population wanes for whatever reason, including too many wolves or global warming for example, the federal government will end subsistence hunting.


Gov. Bill Walker
Gov. Bill Walker

Within the last six months, 100 million acres has been simply taken away from hunters by the three federal agencies: Park Service, BLM and FWS.

Alaskans expect their government to defend State’s rights. They expect a maverick like Gov. Walker to throw down the gauntlet and actually engage in civil disobedience himself to stand for State’s rights. Wally Hickel would have.

But the governor didn’t bother to beat his chest. He didn’t even shoot out a press release.

The reason Gov. Walker is silent is simple: He needs the cooperation of these very agencies to get federal permitting for the gasline he is attempting to build, which crosses vast areas of federal land. He cannot afford to irritate the Washington bureaucracy that will rule on his access.

And so, with the gasline as the No. 1 priority for Walker, Alaskan hunters and subsistence users are watching federal control encroach into the majority of our fish and game management areas, because our governor is too fearful to challenge Washington, and too obsessed with his one big plan for Alaska.


Congressman Don Young issued a swift rebuke to the ruling yesterday:

“Make no mistake – the size, scope and impact of this rule is enormous. With over 76.8 million acres of wildlife refuges in Alaska – an area equaling the size of New Mexico – this unilateral power grab fundamentally alters Alaska’s authority to manage wildlife across all areas of our state.

“Not only does this rule undermine promises made in the Alaska Statehood Compact, it violates the law by ignoring provisions Senator Stevens and I secured within the Alaska National Interest Lands Claims Act (ANILCA) to protect Alaska’s sovereignty and management authority.

“This newest attempt to exert federal authority over Alaska has not gone unchallenged and I will continue to work every angle in Congress to strike this rule, and a similar proposal by the National Park Service, from the federal register. If this rule is allowed to stand, we could see an opening for future jurisdictional takings by the federal government – transforming a cooperative relationship between Alaska and the Fish and Wildlife Service to one of servitude.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski weighed in:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has once again decided that it knows what is best for us, and is trampling Alaska’s long-standing right to manage wildlife in refuges,” Murkowski said. “What we know, from experience, is that this will not end well for anything but predator populations. I find it shocking that this administration’s policies are pointing to a future where we can fill our freezers with genetically engineered salmon, but not the moose and other game we have traditionally harvested in a sustainable manner from our refuges.”

“The FWS rule was accompanied by an unusual opinion piece written by Director Dan Ashe, which attempts to make a case for the new rule but does not contain a single statistic to demonstrate that state wildlife management practices are ineffective. The piece is titled ‘Keep Public Lands Public—And The Wildlife They Protect!’ – which is ironic, as the agency initially sought to extend the maximum length of temporary closures from 12 months to three years, and in its final rule extended the maximum length of emergency closures.”

Earlier this year, Sen. Dan Sullivan described the rule change this way, as he introduced an amendment to try to block the takeover:

“These proposed regulations, as currently written by the Fish and Wildlife Service, would fundamentally alter not only how we now manage wildlife refuges and the Fish and Wildlife habitats on them. [They] will also change the relationship between Fish and Wildlife and individual states from one of cooperation – which it should be – to subservience.”

The final rule will be available for public inspection today, August 4, and will publish in the federal register Friday, FWS will post the website links. Here the draft final rule, which goes into effect on Sept. 6.