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Alaska calls for less federal control of wildlife management

January 8, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Department of the Interior in September asked states what it could do to “restore trust and be a good neighbor.” Alaska’s acting wildlife commissioner has provided a long list of suggestions.

In a 41-page memo, acting Fish and Game Department Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang took aim at the administration of federal laws and regulations that govern endangered species, national wildlife refuges and marine mammals in Alaska. Federal agencies have intruded into Alaska authority to manage fish and game and misinterpreted federal law, he said.

“The majority are long-held issues that we have repeatedly sought resolution to without success, and that have been compounded by increasingly complex and overlapping DOI policies from previous administrations,” Vincent-Lang said in the memo to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

Vincent-Lang was appointed by Alaska’s new governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy. In an email response to questions Tuesday, he said Bernhardt wanted comprehensive responses.

“It is my hope that this letter opens a constructive dialogue and that we can build a meaningful partnership with our federal partners that respects state authorities and roles,” he said.

Vincent-Lang’s suggestions were strongly criticized by a representative of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Rick Steiner said the list could have been compiled by Exxon, the Resource Development Council of Alaska or the Safari Club, an organization that promotes hunting.

“The state has litigated many of these issues over the year, and lost,” Steiner said. “Now it is asking the Trump administration and Congress to fix all of this.”

State and federal officials have clashed over whether Alaska’s “intensive management” practices would be extended to federal lands. State officials have conducted extensive predator control, exterminating wolves, black bears and grizzly bears, to increase populations of moose, caribou and deer.

Managers of federal refuges have rejected predator control measures and liberalized state hunting regulations to boost game populations, citing federal law that says refuges are to be managed for biodiversity.

Federal officials consistently fail to consult with state officials or ignore their comments, Vincent-Lang said.

Federal officials place restrictions on some National Park Service land that may someday be considered for wilderness status, Vincent-Lang said. That policy means it’s managed as de facto wilderness in perpetuity even though it doesn’t carry that restrictive designation, he said.

He also called for more consideration of state comments on critical habitat designations for threatened or endangered animals.

Steiner said the state’s requested limits in implementing the Endangered Species Act is most worrisome.

“This state effort is intended to clear the way for more exploitation of Alaska, unencumbered by federal oversight,” he said.

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