The Interior Department, our former employer, is on the hunt—camouflaged in the guise of “conservation.” Its target? Regulations that prohibit hunters from using cruel, unscientific and unethical methods to hunt Alaska’s bears and wolves.
A taste of what the agency wants to allow under the Trump administration: shooting mother bears hibernating with cubs, luring bears with bait and killing wolves rearing young in their dens. And it wants to give the green light for such activities at National Park Service areas such as Denali and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
We are deeply disappointed in our former employer but realize that this does not reflect the judgment of career scientists or land and wildlife managers. This is politics, pure and simple—placing the bull’s eye on animals when they are most vulnerable.
To our friends and colleagues in the “sportsmen” community, we ask: Is this really sportsmanship? Are we not better than this? Is this really what we want the more than 95 percent of Americans who don’t hunt to see and think about hunters?
We each put in place regulations prohibiting these practices while serving as directors of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after spending years trying to convince the state of Alaska that its rules were unsportsmanlike. From 2005 to 2015, the federal government made more than 50 requests to the Alaska Board of Game, which regulates sport hunting in the state, to limit predator sport hunting on national preserves and national wildlife refuges. The state ignored those requests, forcing us to step in to protect bears and wolves.
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Congress rolled back the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations covering 77 million acres. Now the Trump administration wants to extend that to 20 million acres of national preserves, essentially requiring National Park Service managers to violate their stewardship responsibilities.
These proposals are not conservation. They are a throwback to 19th-century predator persecution, which is explicitly prohibited on our national park and wildlife refuges. These lands were not protected to become glorified game farms for unethical shooting expeditions; they were protected to provide havens for our nation’s wildlife, including brown bears, caribou, wolf and moose. Extreme methods disguised as hunting are not conservation and are not in line with America’s long tradition of ethical, fair-chase hunting.
Yet, that is exactly the snake oil that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is attempting to sell. He’s a politician, so perhaps this is to be expected from him. But where is the outrage from sportsmen and sportswomen?
For goodness’ sake, we know better. We know that preserving biodiversity is key to healthier lands, water and wildlife. Thriving bear and wolf populations benefit their natural ecosystems. Only science-based management can ensure that our hunting traditions are sustained by wildlife habitat and populations. That’s why our federal lands are such a rich bounty for hunters and anglers.
For more than a decade, the Alaska Board of Game has escalated its efforts to reduce bear and wolf populations across much of the state, supposedly to increase moose and caribou populations. This has been scientifically disproved, time and again. We know how the story ends when we let so-called hunters take out their frustrations on bears and wolves in the name of “protecting” game populations. It doesn’t end well. Especially for us hunters. We lose habitat, access and public support.
As lifelong anglers and hunters, we are immensely proud of the unselfish role hunters and anglers have played in protecting and sustaining our nation’s natural heritage and in supporting ethical practices that preserve and honor nature in all its diversity. Sportsmen and sportswomen have hunted and fished across the American landscape for far longer than our national parks and revered public lands have been protected. This has been a bipartisan relationship, honored and supported by Republican and Democratic presidents throughout the decades, beginning with our iconic public-lands champion, Theodore Roosevelt.
The legacy of the ethical hunter is on the line. A nation of mostly non-hunters is watching. Will they see our community stand proudly and loudly for humane, scientific and ethical policy? Or will they see the opposite? Hunters should stand with the non-hunting community and demand that this policy be withdrawn.
Dan Ashe served as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 2011 to 2017. Jon Jarvis served as director of the National Park Service from 2009 to 2017. They wrote this for The Washington Post.