The Interior Department is directing the National Park Service to overturn controversial hunting rules in public park lands in Alaska, according to a memo obtained by the National Parks Conservation Association.
The July 14 memo was written by Virginia Johnson, a political appointee at Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's office. She asks the NPS acting director to reconsider aspects of an October 2015 rule that directed how hunters could kill bears, caribou, and other wildlife on land managed by the agency.
That 2015 rule banned certain hunting methods on NPS areas in Alaska called preserves. Ten of the country's 19 national preserves are located in Alaska. But now that rule may be overturned.
"I have concluded that it would be prudent to reassess the need for the rule and give further consideration to certain elements," Johnson wrote. "I am therefore directing the National Park Service to reconsider the rule."
NPS spokesperson Thomas Crosson confirmed the memo. He said in an email to BuzzFeed News that the agency "is working with the Office of the Assistant Secretary and Department's solicitors to determine the best way to implement the memo's instructions." There would be opportunities for public comment during the process, he said.
Under the Obama administration, the NPS finalized the stricter 2015 rule after holding 26 public meetings and hearings in Alaska and receiving 70,000 public comments.
But some Alaska officials saw these regulations at odds with local needs: In January, the state of Alaska sued the NPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service over separate hunting regulations. "These regulations impact our basic means of survival," Alaska Governor Bill Walker said in a statement.
The new directive appears to side with the state.
"It’s clearly political direction to the National Park Service," Dan Ashe, former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service under Obama, told BuzzFeed News. "It’s not illegal, it’s not unethical — it’s just unusual."
The 2015 rule prevents the hunting of black bears with cubs, for example, and bans the hunting of brown bears lured with human food bait, like doughnuts. It also bans the shooting of caribou from motor boats, and killing wolves and coyotes during the denning season.
"It’s about preserving the tradition of hunting and the principles of fair chase that underlie the term 'sportsman,'" Ashe said. Luring bears with doughnuts is not "hunting," he said, adding: "As a sportsman I find it abhorrent."
In a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News, Interior Department press secretary Heather Swift said that "insinuating any predetermined results based upon a review is premature. Statements by external groups stating that a policy has been set are not accurate." She added that the the department is "committed to working with the people of Alaska on how to best manage their wildlife and habitat."
This rule is central to the core mission of why national parks were created, Jim Adams, Alaska regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, told BuzzFeed News.
"To preserve the natural diversity, to preserve national ecosystems — that’s why national parks were created, to make sure there were some spaces in this country that remained more or less natural," he said.
In April, Congress overturned a 2016 US Fish and Wildlife rule that prohibited the shooting of wolves and bears from airplanes on national refuges in Alaska.
The article was updated to include comments from Interior Department spokesperson Heather Swift.
This article was updated to include comments from National Park Service spokesperson Thomas Crosson.
Nidhi Subbaraman is a Science Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Nidhi Subbaraman at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.