Public comment period extended for proposed change to bear baiting regulation

More than 200 brown bears were harvested in the Bristol Bay region in spring 2016, according to preliminary numbers from Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

National Park Service is considering overturning its 2015 rule, that outlawed certain hunting and trapping techniques in National Preserve lands. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

National Park Service could once again allow controversial techniques like bear baiting on certain public lands.

In a Wednesday announcement, Park Service officials extended a public comment period because of high public interest in the proposed change.

The Park Service outlawed certain sport hunting-and-trapping techniques on National Preserve lands in 2015.

Those techniques include:

  • using artificial light to trap bears at their den sites;
  • taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season;
  • and hunting swimming caribou.

The changes contradicted state of Alaska regulations that allow the practices.

The original regulation passed because the hunting practices conflicted with Park Service values, Park Service spokesman Pete Christian said.

“Park purpose and values require the park service to manage its national interest lands for ecosystems and changing predator-prey balances isn’t what the park service mandate is for,” Christian said.

Opponents of the practices argue they’re unnecessarily cruel and jeopardize public safety.

Now the Park Service is considering overturning its 2015 rule, in response to two statements last year by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke that encouraged the Park Service to align state and federal hunting regulations.

“Since then we’ve had a change administrations, and we have a new secretary of interior whose priorities are to increase hunting and enhance hunting and recreational opportunities on public lands,” Christian said.

The agency has received over 70,000 public comments on the proposed change, some of them duplicates.

Christian said generally the comments are in favor of keeping the 2015 rule in place and prohibiting the controversial practices on public lands.

“What we’ll do is we’ll take all the comments as they come in and evaluate it and substantive comments will be considered in the final rule,” Christian said.

The public comment period has been extended until Sept. 6 to allow the Park Service time to complete an environmental assessment and ensure that the general public and state and local groups have time to respond.

Alaska’s national parks wouldn’t be affected by the proposed change.

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