March 8, 2023
Sarah Creachbaum, Regional Director
National Park Service, Alaska Regional Office
240 West 5th Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99501
Subject: Environmental Assessment for Revisiting Sport Hunting and Trapping on National Preserves in Alaska
Dear Regional Director Creachbaum:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). Our membership is comprised of over 2,300 National Park Service (NPS) retirees, former and current employees, and NPS volunteers, who collectively represent more than 45,000 years of national park management and stewardship experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. Our membership includes former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
We also count among our members many former NPS employees of Alaska national parks, monuments, and preserves and the Alaska Regional Office, as well as NPS retirees who served on the Alaska Task Forces in 1979 and 1980. Early on, we came to understand the history and the special challenges of conservation of the national parks and preserves in Alaska under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
We offer the following comments on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed rule on Hunting and Trapping in National Preserves in Alaska, which is described in Federal Register Notice 2023-00142 at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/01/09/2023-00142/alaska-hunting-and-trapping-in-national-preserves.
The Coalition is pleased to see the NPS is attempting to correct the rule adopted in 2020, which authorized the sport hunting take of wildlife in National Preserves in Alaska under State of Alaska regulations that allow: the use of bait to harvest black and brown bears; the harvest of wolves and coyotes and their pups during the denning season; the harvest of black bear sows and their cubs in dens with the use of artificial lights; and the harvest of swimming caribou from a boat under power. We think it is inappropriate and inconsistent with NPS laws and policies to authorize these means and seasons to harvest wildlife for sport purposes in Alaska National Preserves. Our reasons for thinking this are provided below and in our comments on the proposed new rule.
In the Purpose and Need section, the EA should note, in addition to the NPS Organic Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the General Authorities Act of 1970 as amended by the Redwoods Act of 1978. These two Acts further refine the Congressional intent for the management of National Park System areas. See language used in the 2014 EA, pages 2-3, for the Wildlife Rule adopted in 2015, and repeated in detailed comments below. This is important so that the purposes and values for which National Preserves established under ANILCA are not subverted or diminished.
We think this section should also acknowledge that the EA and revised Wildlife Rule are responsive to the ruling by Judge Sharon Gleason (U.S. District Court of Alaska, Case No. 3:20-cv-00209-SLG, Document 103 ), which found: 1) the 2020 Rule was deficient in its analysis of potential safety impacts to humans and bears resulting from bait stations authorized under State regulations; 2) the State management goal to maximize “sustained yield” of wildlife for human harvest and consumption is not equivalent to the NPS management goal to maintain “self-sustaining” ecosystems and populations of wildlife while allowing hunting in National Preserves in Alaska; and 3) the 2020 Rule presented inconsistencies with NPS Laws and Policies and the NPS was wrong to assume it could only regulate hunting in the Preserves with closures. The reasons for the new Rule and EA are not identical to those expressed in the Gleason Ruling, but they are similar. However, the proposed Rule and EA should explain how these efforts are consistent with the Gleason Ruling.
The Alternatives section fails to identify an Environmentally Preferable Alternative, which was described in the 2014 EA, but not in the 2018 EA.
The analyses of impacts of the alternatives in the Environmental Consequences section offers some compelling new citations relative to the 2014 and 2018 EAs. We appreciate the updates.
In the Consultation and Coordination section the EA fails to list the preparers of the EA, information that was properly included in the 2014 EA. This failure does not provide the public with any assurance that a qualified interdisciplinary team was utilized to prepare the EA. Furthermore, this section states that consultation with other applicable entities, such as affected tribes and ANILCA Corporations and the State of Alaska, would be provided in the “final” EA. The public EA typically is the only EA issued – there is no “final EA” unless a court ruling requires it to be corrected and rewritten. Corrections and amendments responding to substantive public comments about the EA are typically included as “Errata” in an appendix to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) decision document. The EA issued for public review must be as accurate and final as reasonably possible because the public generally has no other opportunity to comment. This section also fails to indicate that the NPS will consult with the State of Alaska before promulgating the Final Rule, as was done in the 2014 EA. This omission unnecessarily provides the State with an opportunity to complain about the process, which is unfortunate. These shortcomings must be addressed in the Errata to the EA.
In addition, because the term “Intensive Management” (IM) is used in multiple sections of the EA (e.g., in the discussion of the 2020 rule and in the final section of Table 2), the EA should include a basic description or explanation of what the State’s IM program entails. This is especially true because the State may argue that their “liberalized” hunting seasons and sport hunting methods to increase harvest of predators are not technically IM. However, such an argument is clearly contradicted by the State’s own public information explaining what Intensive Management is. As described in Understanding Intensive Management and Predator Control in Alaska by ADF&G, IM encompasses a range of management actions including improving habitat; adjusting hunting season lengths and bag limits; targeted removal of predators by relaxing restrictions on how sport hunters may hunt or trap predators (e.g., the so-called “liberalized” predator hunting regulations); and up to and including State sanctioned “predator control” actions. (Emphasis added) The basic purpose of all of the above forms of IM is to increase ungulate (e.g., moose and caribou) numbers to allow for increased harvest by hunters; and “predator control” is simply the most aggressive form of IM. See p. 2 at: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/research/programs/intensivemanagement/pdfs/predator_brochure.pdf.
SPECIFIC COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDED CHANGES
1 Purpose and Need, Page 1, Paragraph 1:
As noted above, either in this paragraph or later in the Purpose and Need Section, the EA should address how the proposed rule addresses the three deficiencies noted in the Gleason Ruling, and explain how the three topics addressed in the 2023 Rule and EA address the three findings in the Gleason Ruling.
- Background, Page 1, Paragraph 1:
As noted above, this paragraph omits noting the General Authorities Act of 1970 as amended by the Redwoods Act of 1978, information which was included in the 2014 EA. These Acts declared significantly that a national park system composed individually and collectively of these areas are to be “preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of all the people of the United States; … and the protection, management, and administration of the areas shall be conducted in the light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which the various areas have been established[.]”
1.1.2 The 2020 Rule, Page 3, Paragraph 1:
Though the State of Alaska denied the liberalized predator hunting methods and seasons were a part of their “Intensive Management” program that includes predator control, these methods surely could or would eventually tip the naturally sustaining balance between predators and prey in Alaska National Preserves. And as noted above and in the Gleason Ruling, “sustained yield” touted by the State is not the same as the NPS mandate to manage for “self-sustaining ecosystems and wildlife populations.” We note that the 2014 EA included in figure 1 a map showing how the State “Intensive Management” zones overlap National Park System areas in Alaska. Because the NPS management policies strictly prohibit predator control, it stands to reason the only way the state could achieve maximum sustained yield of ungulates for human harvest would be to liberalize predator harvest methods and seasons. The State is parsing words, but the effect is still predator reduction to hopefully increase ungulate populations for human harvest. See comment regarding IM at the end of the General Comment section above.
1.1.2 The 2020 Rule, Page 3, Paragraph 2:
The 2020 Rule deferred to the State to essentially determine predator hunting regulations for the Preserves, which has reopened Preserves to previously prohibited “liberalized” predator hunting methods. We note that in the Gleason Ruling the NPS need not defer to the State for hunting regulations per a recent Circuit Court ruling finding the Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to override State laws where there is a conflict with federal purposes and regulations.
- Purpose and Need for Action, Page 6, Bullet 3:
Though we agree the proposed action would “improve governmental function,” we think this phrase could be dropped. The key is to ensure Preserves are managed in a manner consistent with applicable laws and policies, including ANILCA.
- Issues Analyzed in this EA, Page 6, Bullet 3:
We recommend editing the language after “trapping activities” to state “and affect visitor opportunities to observe and enjoy resources and areas.” This language would include scientific observation and study of naturally functioning ecosystems in addition to visitors wanting to watch wildlife in their natural settings.
2.1 Alternative 1; No-Action, Page 8, Last 2 Sentences:
Table 1 in the EA also notes that shooting across a road is prohibited. To improve clarity, we recommend editing these sentences to something like (added wording shown in ALL CAPITAL letters): “State hunting regulations that currently prohibit acts such as shooting from, ACROSS, or on a road, or using poison to kill or incapacitate wildlife, would not be permanently adopted BY NPS and could be subject to change BY THE STATE in the future. ANY FUTURE NPS restrictions on state authorized harvest METHODS are unlikely.”
2.2 Alternative 2 (Proposed and Preferred Alternative), Page 8:
Though the three focus areas identified in the EA are laudable, they are not identical to those noted in the Gleason Ruling, which basically stated the 2020 Rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act in three respects: 1) The NPS need not relegate itself to only emergency closures to manage wildlife in National Preserves; 2) State and NPS wildlife management requirements are not equivalent, and 3) State bear bait regulations do not protect public safety. Focusing on the meaning and scope of hunting for “sport purposes” under ANILCA would help clarify NPS decision-making and rule-making regarding sport hunting in National Preserves.
Table 2: Summary of Alternatives, Page 11, Row 1, Column 3:
Similar to our comment about Section 2.1 Alternative 1 above, the wording in this section should be modified as follows: “…These include prohibitions from shooting from, (add) ACROSS, or on a road…”
Table 2: Summary of Alternatives, Page 11, Row 2, Intensive Management:
Because the table uses the term “Intensive Management” (IM), the EA should include a basic description or explanation of what IM entails. This is especially true because the State may argue that their “liberalized” hunting seasons and sport hunting methods to increase harvest of predators are not technically IM. However, such an argument is clearly contradicted by the State’s own public information explaining what IM is. See our previous comment about IM at the end of the General Comment section.
Page 12, Add New Section 2.4 Environmentally Preferable Alternative:
Such a section was included in the 2014 EA, but not the 2018 EA, for obvious reasons.
3.1.1, Current General Conditions, Page 12, Paragraph 1, Last Line:
Is “limited” the best term to describe allowable human harvest, or would “acceptable” be better. Harvest levels could fluctuate wildly depending on population status, so “limited” may not always be correct, and no harvest might be appropriate at other times.
3.1.1, Current General Conditions, Page 13, Paragraph 2:
This discussion could be more precise. Starting in 2010, the NPS adopted annual temporary restrictions in various NPS unit compendia until issuing the 2015 rule to permanently prohibit the conflicting State regulations applicable in National Preserves. Documenting and implementing recurring temporary closures had become an annual workload for the NPS, and temporary restrictions are not meant to be repeated for many years.
3.1.1, Current General Conditions, Page 13, Paragraph 5, Line 2:
Change “park areas” to “National Park System areas” because the list describes parks, preserves, and monuments, not just parks.
3.1.2, Effects on Wildlife from Alternative 1; No-Action, Page 14, Paragraph 1, Last Sentence:
The list of ungulates potentially affected also includes: muskoxen in BELA, Dall’s sheep in WRST, etc. See page 16 to be consistent.
3.1.2, Effects on Wildlife from Alternative 1; No-Action, Page 14, Paragraph 2:
The information recently provided by ADF&G (2022b) and Boertje (2012) regarding changes in reproduction and behavior of the Forty-Mile Caribou Herd describe just the type of impacts the NPS seeks to avoid with its revised Wildlife Rule.
3.1.2, Effects on Wildlife from Alternative 1; No-Action, Page 14, Paragraph 3:
The updated citation from bear expert Stephen Herrero (2018) provides compelling information to avoid food conditioned bears.
3.1.3 Effects on Wildlife from Alternative 2, Page 15, Conclusion, Second Sentence:
This sentence provides indirect logic and is confusing. We recommend rewriting it to be more direct and understandable, such as, “The localized impacts that would occur to wildlife under this alternative would occur at lower levels than the no-action alternative, resulting in a beneficial impact to wildlife.”
3.2.2, Effects on Federal Subsistence Use from Alternative 1: No-Action, Page 16, Line 5:
Insert “predator” between “liberalized” and “hunting.”
3.2.2, Effects on Federal Subsistence Use from Alternative 1: No-Action, p. 17, Conclusion, Sentence 1: Though moose and caribou are widely harvested, muskoxen (BELA) and Dall’s sheep (WRST) are also important subsistence resources. As noted by ADF&G 2022b with the Forty-Mile Caribou Herd, liberalized harvest of predators does not always result in increased prey populations over the long haul.
3.3.2 Effects on Public Uses and Enjoyment from Alternative 1, No-Action:
We appreciate the repeated citation of bear behavior expert Stephen Herero (2018) throughout this section and recognize this update since the 2014 and 2018 EAs. Herero notes that bears allowed to eat human foods such as at bait stations can become habituated to human foods and become safety hazards or be subject to non-harvest takes in defense of human life and property.
3.3.3 Effects on Public Uses and Enjoyment from Alt. 2, Proposed Action, p. 23, Para.1, Last Sentence: Relative to possible expanded visitor shoulder seasons, the last phrase that states “…would not overlap with sport hunting of swimming caribou[.]” could be construed to indicate sport hunter take of swimming caribou could occur outside the visitor shoulder season. We recommend this be stated more clearly, such as, “non-hunting visitors would not witness sport hunter take of swimming caribou because this activity would be prohibited.”
3.4.2 Effects on Wilderness Character from Alternative 1 – No-Action, Page 27, Undeveloped:
The wording is this section is confusing and seems to conflate “increased ORV use” with “increased ORV impacts in wilderness,” which is not a logical conclusion. We suggest this section be reworded to state: “Many hunters use ORVs to support their hunting activity and the no-action alternative may result in higher levels of ORV use and more motorized access to the Preserves than currently exists. While ORV use is generally prohibited in wilderness, there could be an increase in motorized use adjacent to wilderness areas. This could cause resource damage in those locations, along with an increased potential for unauthorized vehicle encroachments into wilderness, which could impact the undeveloped quality of affected wilderness areas.”
4.2 List of Agencies and Person[s] Consulted, [To be completed in the Final EA], Page 28:
As noted in our general comments, the utter lack of information about “Agencies and Persons Consulted” is unacceptable and must be corrected. Not only is this section not complete, it is not even partially addressed. This is unacceptable because the public generally will have no opportunity to comment on a “final EA.” This section should not only describe agencies and persons consulted and clearly indicate that the NPS would consult directly with the State of Alaska before publishing the final rule, it should also list the preparers of the EA.
The Coalition wholly supports the NPS proposed/preferred action. We commend NPS leadership for initiating this planning effort even before the Gleason Ruling had been issued in September 2022, pursuant to the lawsuit filed by the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, et al. versus Debra Haaland, Secretary of the Interior et al. We have noted several shortcomings in the EA, which we believe can be adequately addressed in the Errata and responses to public comments appendix in the FONSI for the EA. We strongly recommend that NPS makes such corrections to reduce exposure to spurious adverse comments.
In closing, we greatly appreciate this opportunity to comment on this important issue.
Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks