The House of Representatives approved a controversial bill to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects wolves, bears, coyotes and other animals on more than 76 million acres of national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The measure was passed 225-193 on Thursday on a mostly party-line vote.
Animal welfare advocates said that the resolution allows trophy hunters to go to den sites to shoot wolf pups, use painful steel-jawed traps to ensnare animals and even chase down grizzlies with aircraft.
House Joint Resolution 69 (H. J. Res. 69), citing authority under the Congressional Review Act, would rescind U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules enacted in August that are meant to maintain a sustainable population of native Alaskan wildlife.
But on the House floor, Young said his measure was about overturning "illegal" Obama administration rules and ensuring the "right of Alaskans and the right of Alaska to manage all fish and game."
He claimed that special interest groups were spreading "falsehoods" and "propaganda."
"They talk about killing [wolf] puppies and grizzly bears," Young said. "That does not happen nor, in fact, is it legal in the state of Alaska under our management."
Opponents argue that if the measure becomes law, it would allow the use of "inhumane" hunting tactics such as:
- Killing black bear cubs or mother with cubs at den sites
- Killing brown bears over bait
- Trapping and killing brown and black bears with steel-jaw leghold traps or wire snares
- Killing wolves and coyotes during denning season
- Killing brown and black bears from aircraft
"This bill allows the use of inhumane tactics such as trapping, snaring, and baiting bears, and killing wolves and coyotes—and their pups. It even allows shooting bears from helicopters," said Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who voted "No" on the resolution. "As a strong advocate for our public lands and natural treasures, I will continue to fight extreme proposals like this that erode bedrock conservation laws and expose animals to abuse."
After Thursday's vote, the bill is now up for possible consideration in the Senate.
Environmental and animal rights groups have strongly condemned the bill.
"Killing hibernating bears, shooting wolf pups in their dens, and chasing down grizzlies by aircraft and then shooting them on the ground is not the stuff of some depraved video game," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society. "It is exactly what Don Young is trying to restore on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. No decent person should support this appalling, despicable treatment of wildlife."
"Rolling back protections for predators defies everything wildlife refuges stand for," said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Refuges are places where we celebrate biological diversity, not where wolves and bears are inhumanely killed for no good reason. It's an outrage that Congress would revoke rules that stop the senseless slaughter of predators, heedless of the important role these animals play in healthy ecosystems."
Born Free USA said that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's rules were meant to protect Alaskan wildlife from "shockingly brutal practices."
"Alaska is the only state that currently allows bears to be caught and killed for commercial and recreational purposes using cruel leghold traps and snares," the group said. "Both steel-jaw leghold and snare traps are barbaric, cruel, and indiscriminate. When triggered, leghold traps slam shut with bone-crushing force on any victim unfortunate enough to encounter it, including endangered species and pets. Once caught, animals suffer immensely from injury, trauma, and stress, and ultimately die an excruciating death. Many even gnaw off their own limb in a desperate attempt to escape, often dying of a painful infection days later."
"Strangulation neck snares have been cited as the cruelest of all trapping devices. The snare is designed to tighten around an animal's neck as she or he struggles. Animals trapped in neck snares may suffer for days, and their heads and necks are frequently swollen with thick and bloody lymph fluid, a condition called 'jellyhead' by trappers. Death is often slow and painful," the group said.