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Safari Club International appeals refuge ruling

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Safari Club International is appealing a decision from a federal judge to uphold hunting and trapping restrictions in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The hunting advocacy group hopes the court will reconsider the November ruling, said Regina Lennox, litigation counsel for SCI.

It’s part of an ongoing debate about jurisdiction of the refuge, a 2 million-acre swath of land managed by the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2016, the U.S. government under President Barack Obama introduced the “Kenai Rule,” which placed restrictions on hunting and trapping in the refuge, including limits to brown-bear baiting and hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area.

Shortly after that “Kenai Rule'' was passed, SCI and the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit against the department, arguing the restrictions precluded state management of those lands. Conservationist groups, on the other hand, argue that the federal government has primacy over regulation.

A federal judge in November upheld the interpretation made by conservationist groups. SCI filed its challenge to that decision Friday.

“We made certain claims in our complaint, we argued those in our briefing," Lennox said. "The court didn’t agree with us on some of those arguments, so we’ll take all of that to the Ninth Circuit and try to explain why we think the district court misinterpreted both the law and the application of law to the record.”

Nicole Schmitt is executive director for Alaska Wildlife Alliance, one of the intervening defendants in the original case. She said she’s confident that the court will uphold its ruling.

“We feel really confident in our legal arguments and in the strength of that district court decision," she said. "We are confident that the Ninth Circuit will affirm the agency, being the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the lower court in this case. And while it does create more work, it creates an opportunity for us to create a clear Ninth Circuit precedent on these important issues. So, we’re looking forward to that.”

The Ninth Circuit court is the federal court of appeals for Alaska and several other states.

The state has until Jan. 15 to also appeal the decision. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang has said he was worried about the legal precedent the November decision could set.

Rick Green, special assistant to Vincent-Lang, said the department is consulting with its attorneys and considering its options.

“We’re cognizant of the 15th deadline, meaning we should have a decision on whether we’re going to move forward or not by close of business Friday," he said.

SCI is not appealing the decision the court made in its favor, Lennox said. Part of the court’s November ruling said that the portion of the Kenai Rule regarding firearm restrictions along the Kenai and Russian rivers required further analysis from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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