Alaska Petitions Supreme Court Over Ban on Baiting Brown Bears

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The state of Alaska filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court late last month. The petition challenged a federal ban on brown bear baiting.

The 2016 ban prohibited the use of bait when hunting brown bears within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge spans nearly two million-acre wildlife refuge situated in the southeastern part of the state.

In its October 27 petition, the state argued that the baiting ban, instituted by the Obama administration, unjustly overrides Alaska’s authority to set hunting regulations on federal lands within its borders.

The petition remains part of a prolonged tug-of-war between Alaskan officials and federal agencies over wildlife management decisions on federal lands.

Alaska, unlike other states, has long enjoyed the ability to set hunting and fishing regulations on federally-owned lands. This includes the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This right was granted to the state when it was admitted into the Union in 1959.

Those rights to govern all wildlife and the harvest thereof—even on federally-owned property—were reinforced in 1980. That year, the legislature passed the Alaska Interest Lands Conservation Act, more commonly known as ANILCA.

Brown Bear Baiting Fight Continues as Prominent Alaskan Politicians Weigh In

ANILCA set aside more than 100 million acres of federal land in Alaska. However, it also allowed the state to retain authority its over the management of hunting wildlife populations on those lands. This is according to the petition.

But that paradigm was challenged in 2015. That year, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) prohibited the hunting of brown bears over bait within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, the federal agency said that harvesting brown bears over bait would cause population declines. They cited “significantly increased harvest rates.”

The state objected, citing robust brown bear numbers on the Kenai Peninsula. However, the prohibition was implemented anyway. Then, in 2016, the USFWS went a step further by banning brown bear hunting over bait on all national wildlife refuges throughout Alaska. 

In 2017, Congress overturned the statewide baiting ban by an act of Congress in 2017. However, the Kenai ban on brown bear baiting remains in effect to this day. The state’s recent petition asks the Supreme Court to review a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld the Kenai baiting ban back in 2019. If the petition becomes accepted, Alaska might have the opportunity to make its case for brown bear baiting before the highest court in the land. 

“Congress did not intend for federal agencies to have unlimited authority over how we access our wildlife,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy in a statement through the Alaska Department of Law. “We will continue to fight to ensure that Alaskans manage how we use our own resources.”