The Trump administration is proposing new regulations to open the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Alaska to brown bear baiting, to eliminate federal restrictions on trapping, and to expand snowmobiling, mountain biking, and ATV use in a significant part of the Refuge. The proposed changes make a mockery of the area’s importance as a refuge for wildlife.


The 1.9 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the most visited national wildlife refuge in Alaska, and includes the 1.3 million-acre Kenai Wilderness, a great diversity of wildlife, stunning scenery, and world-renowned salmon runs. 


The new rule would allow the cruel and unethical practice of allowing hunters to shoot and kill brown bears over piles of bait. The Refuge has a longstanding prohibition on baiting brown bears because it’s in direct conflict with the refuge’s purpose, which is to conserve wildlife in its natural diversity, including maintaining natural predator-prey relationships. The Kenai peninsula brown bears are an especially vulnerable population due to their isolation from mainland populations, low reproduction rates, and the alarming rate of brown bear killing that occurs on adjacent state and private lands. Zero bear baiting of any kind should occur on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.


Alaska has a long history of unapologetic predator extermination efforts which are entirely inconsistent with refuge purposes and have no place on national wildlife refuge lands and in Wilderness, yet this rule would align federal policies with state efforts to significantly depress predator populations.


If baiting bears wasn’t bad enough, the proposed rule would open more of the refuge to trapping with fewer restrictions, which would indiscriminately kill more wildlife, reduce the abundance and diversity of wildlife, and cause untold suffering for animals that die slowly for days in a trap. Rather than weakening trapping regulations, trapping should be altogether banned in the Refuge.


Finally, the new rule would further stress wildlife by allowing more access for snowmobiles, bicycles, and ATVs in non-wilderness portions of the Refuge. The rule would also allow hunters to use game carts for the first time. Game carts make it easier for hunters to haul animals they’ve killed back to the car, which effectively encourages more hunters to venture further into the Refuge. 


All told, every aspect of the new rule would make the Kenai less of a refuge for wildlife and more of a playground for hunters, snowmobilers, bikers, and ATV riders. Wildlife should come first, with recreation limited so as to lessen human impact on the land and its inhabitants. What is the purpose of a refuge if wildlife finds no refuge there?


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On March 16, 2020, Wilderness Watch and our allies fired off our latest legal salvo in the ongoing litigation case to protect brown bears and reasonable hunting restrictions promulgated for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) promulgated these regulations, which have been challenged by the State of Alaska, the Safari Club International, and a coalition called the Alaska Professional Hunters Association. Wilderness Watch and our allies from several other organizations have intervened in the lawsuit to protect the regulations.


At issue is a set of regulations finalized by the FWS in May 2016 that codified several long-standing, common sense management decisions, collectively known as the Kenai Rule. The State and the Safari Club unfortunately challenged the following three parts of the Kenai Rule:


  • To continue the longstanding prohibition on hunting brown bears over bait in the Refuge,
  • To emphasize wildlife viewing and environmental education in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (WRA) within the Refuge, including restrictions on some hunting and trapping on two percent of the Refuge, and
  • To extend the FWS’s typical safety buffer regarding the use of firearms in high-use areas to protect public safety in the Kenai River and Russian River corridors.

Wilderness Watch and our allies believe that these regulations that the FWS promulgated in the Kenai Rule are quite reasonable, and we will continue to fight to protect them from being overturned by the State of Alaska and the Safari Club. We have requested oral argument for the next step in this case.


Our deep thanks go to Trustees for Alaska for representing Wilderness Watch and our allies on this case.


Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


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