The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was flooded this summer with feedback about proposed hunting and access regulation changes in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. As a result, it’s hosting a public hearing about those changes Oct. 26 and reopened the public comment period through Nov. 9.
“During the previous public comment period, which closed Aug. 10, the service received several requests from folks for us to hold a public hearing on the proposed regulatory changes," said Andrea Medeiros, public affairs specialist for Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska region. "And our regulations require us to hold a public hearing if we are requested. But in order for us to do that, we have to reopen the proposed regulations for public comment.”
The purpose of the multiple proposed changes is in part to bring state hunting and trapping regulations more in line with federal regulations following a 2017 order from the White House.
One of the most controversial proposed changes would allow for hunting brown bears over bait in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears.
The new rules would also reverse restrictions on trapping around trails and trailheads and eliminate the requisite of an orientation class for trappers. They would open up the refuge to bicycles and game carts, and ice-fishing lakes to snowmachines and ATVs, and would permit the discharge of firearms along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter.
Proponents see the changes as a way to standardize regulations across the peninsula.
Opponents worry about the impact they might have on locals and the ecology of the area.
Lorraine Temple, of Cooper Landing, said she is concerned about the bear baiting and how loosened trapping restrictions might affect people who walk and hike in the area. She’s part of an effort to encourage people to submit comments.
“When this first was put out, and we were trying to collect comments to get the momentum going to get people interested, she said, "it was in the middle of summer, which … people are so busy. Now, things have calmed down, there’s more time.”
She’s pleased there will be a public hearing on the regulation changes this time around.
“And so Oct. 26, it’s going to be really important for people, especially locals," she said. "The local voice is going to carry the furthest.”
Medeiros said the hearing is going to feature a presentation about the proposed changes with time for people to comment. She said all comments are taken into account before final decisions are made.
“They actually received over 34,000 comments with the last public comment period," she said. "So we have a contractor that is going through all those comments and categorizing them and so forth so they’re helping us process those.”
Medeiros said they hope to get the process wrapped up before the end of the year but it will depend on how long it takes to sift through the comments.
The comment period reopens tomorrow. The public hearing will be held on Zoom at 4 p.m. Oct. 26 p.m. Information about attending that hearing and submitting a comment can be found here: www.fws.gov/refuge/Kenai/visit/rules_and_regulations.html