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National Park Service Rule Remains In Place … For Now

A complicated case has resulted in a win for hunters … for the moment.  A federal court left in place a rule that withdrew certain hunting restrictions on National Preserves in Alaska.  However, the rule is currently under review by the National Park Service (NPS).  The NPS is likely to reinstate some (or all) of the restrictions—likely setting up more litigation.

This case has been ongoing in one form or another since 2015.  In 2015, the NPS adopted a rule for National Preserves in Alaska which restricted certain hunting authorized by State regulations.  This included the hunting of bears over bait and an extended wolf hunting season in certain remote areas, among other things.  Safari Club International, the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, and the State of Alaska all challenged the 2015 NPS rule in court.

In 2020, the Service withdrew these restrictions.  SCI and its partners celebrated the 2020 rule.  But a group of anti-hunting plaintiffs took the Service back to court.

On September 30, the Alaska federal district court issued a ruling which largely upheld the 2020 rule.  Importantly, the court held that the NPS properly relied on State harvest data and other information which demonstrated that the hunting practices were not “predator reduction efforts” and were not reducing populations of predator species in favor of prey species.

However, the court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on a few points.  The court held that the NPS had greater authority to regulate or restrict hunting on federal lands than the NPS had claimed in its 2020 rule.  But instead of vacating the 2020 rule, the court left it in place.  The court noted that the NPS is considering a revised rule.

In the near term, the court’s decision is good news for hunters.  The 2020 rule defers to State hunting regulations and seasons.  In the longer term, which of the challenged hunting practices are permitted and which are prohibited remains to be seen.  It will depend on how the NPS chooses to revise the 2020 rule.  But hunters can take some comfort in the fact that SCI is keeping track, and will always be First For Hunters when it comes to protecting access to federal public lands.

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