brown bear with cub
NPS Photo

Protecting Alaska’s Carnivores

January 31, 2019
Guest Blogger: Sanford (Sandy) Rabinowitch

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.
 – John Muir

Large carnivores, including brown bear, black bear, and wolves, are under attack in Alaska. They are in danger even on some National Park Preserves and National Wildlife Refuges. Alaska’s approach to wildlife management is a throw-back to an older time, when these predators were targeted for reductions in hopes that hunters would benefit from having more moose, caribou, and deer available as prey. And this approach is being implemented without effective monitoring programs.

To our knowledge, Alaska is unique in the world because this management priority is both widespread and mandated by state law. Predators are controlled in some other areas of the world to reduce losses of domestic livestock. In parts of Canada, for example, there are concerns that reductions in wolf abundance may be necessary to bolster woodland caribou populations depleted by habitat losses. But in most of the world, there has been a paradigm shift away from predator control in order to supposedly benefit their prey.

The National Park Service published a regulation, effective in 2016, to prevent some of these practices. This regulation is still in effect today. However, the current administration is actively working to eliminate this Alaska NPS rule and we should expect to hear more about this regulatory activity early this spring. If the administration succeeds, bears and wolves living on National Park Service Preserves will be directly affected by the State’s Intensive Management statute and put at risk.

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks has been working in partnership with other environmental and conservation groups to protect Alaska’s carnivores. You can read about their actions here and here.

My colleagues and I have recently published a paper in PLOS-Biology which explains how the State of Alaska’s 1994 Intensive Management statute is affecting these large carnivores throughout the state. It can be found here.

I was also involved in writing a in-depth article focusing on the legal framework for NPS’s management of wildlife in Alaska’s National Parks, Preserves and Monuments in the time when Frank Murkowski and then Sarah Palin were governor of Alaska (insert link ) for Alaska Law Review, arguing that as the implementation of that management statute becomes increasingly widespread, it is ever more important for the NPS to recognize that Alaska’s current Intensive Management Program is preempted on NPS lands based on a theory of direct conflict.

Enlightened scientific management is needed to put Alaska back on the path to avoiding the errors in predator management of a century ago.

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Sanford (Sandy) Rabinowitch is a retired NPS employee who worked for the NPS in Alaska for 31 years and still resides in Anchorage, Alaska. He served as a Subsistence Manager, the Chief of Coastal Programs Division, the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Specialist, and an Outdoor Recreation Planner. Prior to his work with the NPS, Sandy worked with the Alaska State Park System as the Chief of Operations, a Supervising Landscape Architect, and a Park Planner. Sandy is a Senior Consultant for DOI’s International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP), DOI Office of International Affairs and has worked in several countries on behalf of the federal government. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Planning and Management and a master’s degree in landscape architecture.