Kenai Wildlife Refuge hunting rules challenged in court

 (photo from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
(photo from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 6, 2020 at 8:27 PM AKST
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Hunting restrictions put in place within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge three years ago were challenged in a lawsuit filed Monday by the State of Alaska.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance claims the rules, established in 2015 and 2016, are "an illegal federal overreach of the State’s authority to manage and conserve native wildlife, including on federal lands."

The lawsuit claims the regulations "infringe on Alaska’s constitutional obligation to its citizens to provide a sustainable yield of State wildlife resources."

The State of Alaska also claims "the federal agencies did not adopt these regulations for conservation purposes. Instead, the agencies sought to override statutory restrictions on federal authority to manage wildlife in Alaska and impose subjective views of “ethical” hunting activities."

The lawsuit states that in 2013, the State Board of Game considered public proposals to authorize the late fall and winter hunting of wolves, coyotes and lynx in a game management unit that included the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, and hunting bears at black bear baiting stations in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The lawsuit claims the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service objected, and when the Alaska Board of Game approved the hunting regulations, federal officials shut down the new hunting opportunities.

The lawsuit alleges that the so-called "Kenai Rule" approved in May, 2015 "preempted and prohibited State-authorized wolf, coyote, and lynx harvests within the Skilak WRA; banned the legal discharge of firearms along the Kenai and Russian Rivers (with limited exceptions for waterfowl and small game hunting and dispatch of animals lawfully trapped); preempted and prohibited State-authorized hunting of brown bears over bait; and prohibited the legal hunting of big game with aid or use of a dog, except for black bear."

The "Refuge-Specific Regulations" published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in May, 2016 said the rules for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge "are designed to enhance natural resource protection, public use activities, and public safety on the Refuge; are necessary to ensure the compatibility of public use activities with the Refuge's purposes and the Refuge System's purposes; and ensure consistency with management policies and approved Refuge management plans."

The State of Alaska lawsuit asks the federal court to overturn the "Kenai Rule" and order the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to comply with state hunting rules.

The lawsuit also names the Alaska Wildlife Alliance as a defendant.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is mandated by Congress to manage wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges for natural diversity, which includes maintaining healthy populations of predators. The State is trying to managers on federal lands to scarcity, which runs contrary to the goal of managing wildlife in its natural diversity," Nichole Schmitt, Executive Director of Alaska Wildlife Center said in a statement. "It should also be noted that the regulations at issue here do not apply to subsistence hunting; that's managed completely separately."

KTUU is seeking comment from the U.S. Dept. of Interior.

This is a developing story. Check and Channel 2 News for updates