By Nora Apter, Natural Resources Defense Council
Republicans in Congress just did the unthinkable, and by all counts risked political suicide, by bringing to the Senate floor—and then passing—legislation (H.J.Res.69) that would allow egregious and inhumane “predator control” practices to be used to kill wolves, bears, and other iconic wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. That’s right: refuges. Or in other words, those federal lands that are set aside for the specific purpose of wildlife conservation.
We’re talking about seriously extreme and unreasonable methods, like killing animals over bait or with steel leghold traps, using airplanes to scout and then later land and shoot grizzly bears and their cubs, and killing wolves and wolf pups in their dens. These practices are not only completely unsportsmanlike—they’re scientifically indefensible. Further, they violate one of the core responsibilities of the National Wildlife Refuge System: to maintain natural diversity, not aggressively target some species in the hopes of artificially inflating others.
When you have avid, lifelong hunters like Senator Heinrich standing up on the Senate floor arguing that these killing practices are unnecessary and unsportsmanlike, you know it must be true. Even for moderate Democrats, such as Senators Manchin, Heitkamp, Tester, Donnelly, and McCaskill, this bill was a bridge too far: Despite intensive lobbying by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other ‘sportsman’ groups in support of the measure, every Senate Democrat voted against the resolution. Unfortunately, politics once again won over fact and reason, and the resolution passed thanks to the support of all 51 GOP Senators plus Senator King, an Independent representing Maine.
Moreover, while the Alaska delegation and other proponents of H.J.Res.69 insisted throughout the debate on the resolution that it was an issue of states’ rights, such a claim could not be further than truth. Rather, it’s a matter of ensuring that federal lands—congressionally reserved for wildlife conservation—are managed in accordance with the law. If President Trump signs this into law, it will set a dangerous precedent for these kinds of unnecessary, unsustainable practices to be allowed on National Wildlife Refuges across the country.