The idea of a National Wildlife Refuge is that it will be a refuge for wildlife created and maintained by the national government. It’s not a very complicated idea, but Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives seem to be struggling with the notion.
Yesterday, House Republicans voted to end protections for wild animals in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges. In a 225 to 193 vote, they passed H.J. Res. 69, which plays havoc with the implementation of three existing laws: The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, and the Wilderness Act.
H.J, Res. 69 allows the killing of bears, wolves and coyotes inside national wildlife refuges in Alaska using methods such as cornering the animals in their dens, shooting cubs, killing mother bears, and using bait to lure the animals to places where they can be easily shot without being tracked down.
It’s important to understand that the kind of hunting legalized by H.J. Res. 69 isn’t hunting that enables people to live off the land. Under existing law, subsistence hunting of predators for food and other essential supplies is already allowed in national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The hunting legalized by H.J. Res. 69 isn’t to protect livestock, either. There isn’t much livestock raised in Alaska.
The kind of hunting of bears, wolves and coyotes that is legalized by H.J. Res. 69 is conducted with the conscious purpose of wrecking natural ecosystems in order to artificially expand populations of caribou and moose. The trouble with this is that when herbivore populations are allowed to expand without the natural restraint of predation, widespread ecological destruction results. Plants become browsed past their ability to regrow. As a result, habitat quickly becomes severely degraded. The populations of herbivores then crash, but the damage has often been so severe that foliage cannot recover for a very long time.
So, the problem with H.J. Res. 69 isn’t just that it violates the sanctity of National Wildlife Refuges. An additional problem is that H.J. Res. 69 is that it doesn’t achieve its aims. It’s a political bill seeking to address a scientific issue. H.J. Res. 69 has been promoted by the National Rifle Association with the interest of giving people more opportunities to use their guns, not with ecological management in mind.
Protective rules had been written to require that the hunting of predators is “based on sound science in response to a conservation concern”. H.J. Res. 69 destroys those provisions, to allow ideological propaganda to set the standard for how hunting takes place in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.