The Trump administration has silenced National Park Service concerns over a National Rifle Association-backed bill proposing to strip the NPS of the right to regulate commercial and recreational fishing and hunting in Alaska wildlife preserves. In June, the acting director of the NPS, Michael Reynolds, drafted a 30-page memo outlining NPS concerns about the proposed bill addressed to the Department of the Interior’s Legislative Council. It was returned with large sections crossed out, and the edited draft leaked earlier this week.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE) would bar the NPS from restricting the hunting of predator species in wildlife preserves and prevent them from regulating commercial and recreational fishing within park boundaries. It deregulates hunting for bears, coyotes, and wolves during their denning season, despite the fact that, as the NPS points out in the memo, bear cub and wolf and coyote pup pelts offer “little trophy, economic, or subsistence value.” Reynolds argues that hunting practices allowed elsewhere in Alaska—including trapping mothers and pups and cubs in their dens—have no place on NPS-run land. The NRA considers the opposition to these hunting practices and regulations “animal rights extremis[m].” The bill also restricts the NPS from commenting on development projects outside the parks that could impact the parks.
As McClatchy reports, the Department of the Interior and a spokesperson for the NPS have explained that the memo was undergoing a standard editing process—the memo was addressed internally, and was meant to be the start of an process of discussion and deliberation. However, it isn’t the first time the service’s public voice has been censored or manipulated since Trump’s election; McClatchy cites both the reversal of a plastic water bottle ban in certain parks and Trump’s pressuring the NPS to support his claims about his inauguration crowd size in January. The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior sits at odds with the NPS’ established missions of conservation, preservation, and protection, as illustrated by the national monument review and the recent Department of the Interior decision to halt studies of the health impact of coal mining in West Virginia.
“Expanding access to national parks and public lands for hunting, fishing, and recreation is and remains a top priority of this administration,” said Heather Swift, an Interior Department spokeswoman. The SHARE bill sits at a crossroads of states’ rights, environmental concerns, and access issues. It seeks to allow the state of Alaska to regulate hunting and fishing on federal land within the state, rather than keeping federal public land under jurisdiction of the federal government. Alaska lawmakers have long lobbied for the right to establish their own regulations—which allow for the practices mentioned above—on this land, and succeeded earlier this year in blocking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from regulating hunting and fishing on government-run wildlife preserves in the state, rolling back Obama-era protections for predator species.
Placing federal lands in state government’s hands is in line with the current Department of the Interior (and broader Trump administration) agenda, but there are several inherent issues. Namely, bills like SHARE set a precedent for deregulation of fragile areas and preserves.The National Parks Conservation Association released their objections to the SHARE bill earlier this year, stating “Many coastal parks, including Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore [in Wisconsin], and Channel Islands National Park [in California] could see a weakening in regulations designed to preserve marine wildlife if this provision becomes law.”
Photo courtesy of Denali National Park.
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