Judge upholds restrictions on hunting and trapping in refuge

Nov 16, 2020

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established as a wildlife refuge under the Alaska National Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Hunting advocacy and environmentalist groups are divided on their interpretations of ANILCA and what it means for wildlife management in the refuge.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

A federal judge has upheld restrictions on hunting and brown bear baiting in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, thwarting attempts by hunting advocates and the state to overturn the Obama-era “Kenai Rule.”

The Kenai Rule was established in 2016 to regulate hunting and trapping on the refuge. It restricts brown bear baiting within the refuge, hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and firearm discharge along the Kenai and Russian Rivers, among other measures.

Shortly after the rule was passed, the state of Alaska and Safari Club International filed cases against the Department of the Interior, arguing that the restrictions preempted state management of wildlife on these lands.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, argue that the federal government has primacy when it comes to regulating wildlife in the refuge.

On Friday, Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the federal court for the District of Alaska upheld that interpretation. Gleason also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that there is no empirical evidence backing the restrictions, concluding that the regulations outlined in the rule are scientifically sound.

The court did rule, however, that the portion of the Kenai Rule regarding firearm restrictions along the Kenai and Russian rivers requires further analysis from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Online, conservationist groups are calling the court decision a victory. It is currently unclear how the decision will impact the ongoing attempts by Fish and Wildlife to walk back Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulations, since several of those regulations were upheld in this case.