Hundreds sign up to comment on refuge regulations at extended public hearings

Oct 26, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired a contractor to sift through the tens of thousands of comments it has received on the proposed regulation changes.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

A public hearing on proposed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulation changes has been extended over three days, due to hundreds signing up for a slot to comment.

From Monday to Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding hearings on proposed changes to refuge policies that would open the refuge up to trapping without a federal permit, allow for hunting brown bears over bait in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears, and allow for the discharge of firearms along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter, among other changes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received an outpouring of comments on those regulations during the first comment period this summer and was asked repeatedly to hold a hearing, which prompted them to reopen the comment period through Nov. 9. They had also scheduled a public hearing for today.

But they were not able to fit all who wanted to comment into one session.

“We’ve had several hundred people signing up for the hearing that was originally just scheduled for the 26th," said Andrea Medeiros, public affairs specialist for Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska region. "So we’ve added two additional hearing dates, and that’s going to be on the 27th and the 28th.

The public hearings are taking place on Zoom. Today, 115 members of the public are speaking, while there are 75 slots for speaking Tuesday and 75 slots for Wednesday. Each speaker is allowed to speak for up to two minutes. Hearings begin at 4 p.m. on each of the scheduled days.

A contractor will be going through all the comments. In the last comment period, they received 34,000 comments.

“And then we’ll be looking at the comments and determining what we need to do in response to those," she said. "It could be, we modify the rule based on some of the new comments that have been submitted.”

Today’s public hearing began with a presentation on the proposed changes. As of 4:30, over 70 were in attendance.

To join the public hearings or submit a public comment, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.