WASHINGTON -- In its zeal to repeal, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule forbidding the baiting, trapping and "denning" of bears and wolves in Alaska's national wildlife refuges.
The Senate is poised to consider the resolution as soon as next week.
Distilled to its essence, Alaska's politicians want to reduce bear and wolf populations so hunters will have more moose and caribou to kill. Alaska's full congressional delegation -- Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (all Republicans) -- is behind the push.
Arguing for passage of H.J. Res. 69, Young told of entering wolf dens and killing mother and pups back when he worked as a bounty hunter of predators. Presumably, this was intended to impress his fellow legislators, as are his office walls, which are bedecked with animal trophies. One eye-catching exhibit consists of a gargantuan grizzly-bear hide tacked to a wall, the beast's hind legs framing a piece of the Alaskan pipeline.
This isn't an anti-hunting column, I should say upfront. I'm on record supporting humane hunting for food (but not for trophies) and I recognize that without hunters, many of whom are ardent conservationists, many wetlands would have been drained for commercial development.
This is a plea for common sense, compassion and conservation. What are wildlife refuges, after all, if not refuges for wildlife?
The underlying so-called principle behind the resolution is the GOP's promise to reduce job-killing regulations. While zealous regulation has led to some corporate outsourcing -- and responsible tweaks can be made here and there -- not one job is protected nor one dime saved by overturning the wildlife agency's rule.
One could even argue that Young's move is anti-business. Alaska's greatest resource second only to oil is tourism. People go to Alaska to hunt but also to visit the parks and see the animals. Watching animals, in fact, brings Alaska more tourism dollars than hunting does, according to Alaska's Department of Fish and Game.
The sheer savagery of what would become lawful if the Senate falls prey to its companion resolution (S.J. Res. 18) should give pause to anyone with a heartbeat.
Hunters could scout grizzlies from the air and then be deposited on the ground to kill them. (Aerial shooting is still forbidden.) They could hunt wolves during denning season, either shooting a mother wolf, thus dooming her babies, or entering the den and killing all, frequently with gas. Hunters could also bait, trap or snare, causing an agonizing death usually exacerbated by freezing temperatures. The traps are steel-jawed. A snare is a wire that wraps around an animal's neck, then tightens as it tries to pull away.
These enhanced methods would target animals at their most vulnerable, in other words, and cause maximum suffering for no tenable reason. Moreover, artificially reducing the number of predators winnows down diversity essential to a healthy ecosystem, which can lead to unintended and disastrous consequences.
One potentially lethal consequence for humans is that baiting bears with food such as doughnuts habituates them to the human scent, thus increasing the risk of attacks on people. Remember "Don't feed the bears"?
Of hunters, one must ask: Where is the sportsmanship in all of this?
To Young and his like-minded colleagues, such a query is beside the point. Ultimately, they say, this is a states' rights issue. There it is, the love Republicans can't quit. In fact, no law grants state land managers authority to overrule federal land managers' decisions related to federal land -- for good reason.
Without the National Park Service, we might have had mining in the Grand Canyon, noted Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (where my son works), in a telephone interview. "Without federal protections, what's to stop Wyoming from authorizing hunting grizzlies in Yellowstone?
"States' rights simply don't apply when you have a federal category of lands authorized by Congress," he said. "This is really our Serengeti."
As a humane matter, there's no defending House Joint Resolution 69. As a regulatory issue, it defies logic. As an economic concern, protecting wildlife from cruel hunting practices makes sense.
Senators should vote to leave the protective rule in place -- not only to protect our wildlife from politicians' predatory practices but also to reassure Americans that the chamber still has a conscience.
Check out these recently discussed stories and voice your opinion...