A federal rule change is in the works that would increase hunting and access opportunities on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
The modification of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules would more closely align state and federal regulations on national refuges in Alaska, following a 2017 Trump administration order.
The new rules were published in the Federal Register on Thursday and are open for public comment for 60 days. The changes would allow hunting brown bears over bait on the refuge. Trappers would no longer need to get a refuge-specific permit, which requires a seldom-offered orientation class. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along the Kenai and Russian rivers from Nov. 1 to April 30. There would be more access for snowmachines, ATVs and utility vehicles on ice-fishing lakes and there would be more allowance for bikes and game carts.
Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says the state sees this as a rightful return to state management of wildlife.
“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,” Green said.
Green says regulations will now be more consistent on the Kenai Peninsula, which will cut down on confusion for hunters and trappers.
“The real victory here is going to be simplicity of game management, where there’s going to be less sets of rules to have to follow over fictitious or manmade lines that may not be along drainages,” Green said.
The state’s approach to wildlife management prioritizes maximum sustained yield of fish and game. The refuge's priority is diversity of wildlife, which has led to a more restrictive approach to hunting. While hunting groups and state Fish and Game have advocated for primacy of state rules, the proposed changes have opposition, as well, primarily from wildlife conservation groups.