Last chance to weigh in on refuge rule changes

Aug 10, 2020

Proposed changes to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulations would, among other things, allow bikes and game carts, baiting of brown bears and give the state authority to regulate trapping on the refuge.
Credit Forest Service-USDA

Today is the deadline to submit comments on proposed regulation changes affecting the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The changes would allow the state of Alaska to regulate trapping on the refuge, which would do away with the requirement of an orientation class and a buffer zone disallowing trapping around trails and trailheads. It would allow baiting as a harvest method for brown bears in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears. Use of bicycles and game carts would be allowed for the first time on the refuge. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter. And ice-fishing lakes would be open to snowmachines and ATVs in the winter when there’s adequate snow and ice cover.

The state of Alaska and federal Fish and Wildlife Service have been at odds for years over their differing management approaches. These changes are coming about following a 2017 Trump administration order, and the state sees them as a way to give Alaska back more control over its lands.

“Unlike most other states in the union, Alaska is one of the only ones that the federal government steps in and manages wildlife when it’s really a state’s rights issue," said Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Advocates for the refuge, including David Raskin, president of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, say these changes circumvent the usual public process and point out that the purpose of the refuge is different than the state’s approach to natural resources.

“The main purposes (are) to conserve fish and wildlife habitat in their natural diversity and to provide opportunities for fish and wildlife recreation for the public,” Raskin said.

There’s a link to the full text of the proposed changes and a way to submit comments on the refuge’s website, fws.gov/refuge/kenai.