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Brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. NPS Photo / B. Plog

The Trump administration has proposed new regulations to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects iconic predators in Alaska's national preserves.

Wildlife protection organizations condemned the move, as it would allow hunters to go to den sites to shoot wolf pups and bear cubs, lure and kill bears over bait, hunt bears with dogs and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. Such hunting methods were banned on federal lands in 2015 that are otherwise permitted by the state.

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Four grizzly bear cubs near Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Pat Gaines / Flickr

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reaffirmed its June 2017 decision to designate grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) as a separate population and remove that population from protections under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS announced in the Federal Register Friday.

When the FWS announced the June 22 decision, they pointed to the fact that the population of grizzly bears in the area in and around Yellowstone National Park had grown from 136 in 1975, when the species was first listed, to 700 today.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Elephant family in Kenya. Nzomo Victor / Flickr

By Elly Pepper

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters' ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council's mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn't want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

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Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity

In response to recent scientific consensus on giraffes' vulnerability to extinction, five wildlife protection groups today petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Earth's tallest land animal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

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Photo credit: beingmyself/Flickr

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.

The Republican-sponsored legislation was introduced by Alaska Rep. Don Young and was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a number of hunting groups.

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.

Key environmentally-related ballot measures in six states received mixed results yesterday.

On the plus side, Florida voters saw through utility industry efforts to thwart the state's burgeoning solar energy business and California voters appeared to affirm the state's ban on single-use plastic bags. Both Massachusetts and Oregon passed key animal protection laws.

But, two historically significant measures didn't fare as well. An energy and big business-backed state constitutional amendment passed in Colorado, while a controversial carbon tax initiative in Washington went down to defeat.

1. FLORIDA: Florida's utility-backed Amendment 1, disguised as a pro-solar bill, failed to reach the 60 percent yes vote needed to become law.

"Florida voters weren't fooled by the misleading campaign that the utilities tried to perpetrate," Tania Galloni, Earthjustice managing attorney for Florida, said.

A hard-fought grassroots campaign worked to educate voters on the deceptive nature of the proposed amendment to the Florida constitution. The amendment would have allowed utility companies to charge fees to solar customers and make it more difficult for private solar companies to work with homeowners.

Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, told the Miami Herald, "We defeated one of the most egregious and underhanded attempts at voter manipulation in this state's history."

2. WASHINGTON: Voters rejected Initiative 732, which would have created the nation's first tax on carbon. The proposal would have set a price of $25 per metric ton starting in 2018, increasing to $100 over the next 40 years. The measure was opposed not only by the Koch brothers, but also by the Sierra Club.

However, as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said days before the election, "By making Washington the premier American government to place a price on carbon, Evergreen voters will pioneer the trail away from our deadly carbon addiction and its murderous offspring: climate chaos."

3. COLORADO: Amendment 71, supported by the oil and gas industry, won approval in Colorado. Now, the state constitutional amendment makes it extremely difficult to get citizen initiatives on the ballot, essentially ceding control to big-money backers. An attempt to get an anti-fracking amendment on the ballot sparked the oil and gas industry to spend big on Amendment 71.

A group funded by Anadarko and Noble Energy donated at least $1 million to support passage. Other big backers included the Colorado Gaming Association, Colorado Dairy Farmers and the Colorado Association of Realtors.

4. CALIFORNIA: Two propositions affecting the use of plastic bags were on the state ballot this year. As of this morning, Proposition 67, which would keep the legislatively-enacted statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, appears to be winning. Proposition 65, which was an industry-backed effort to create an ill-defined environmental fund supported by the 10-cent bag fee, was defeated.

The Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups opposed Prop 65. They said it was designed to confuse voters.

5. MASSACHUSETTS: Voters enacted a landmark law that will protect farm animals from extreme confinement. By 2022, the measure will prohibit the use of veal crates for baby calves, gestation crates for mother pigs and so-called battery cages for egg-laying hens. All three confine animals to spaces so small they can't turn around or spread their wings, in the case of hens, and are inhumane.

The newly-passed Massachusetts law also makes it illegal to sell meat or eggs from animals kept in these conditions, including from those farmed outside the state.

6. OREGON: Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 100 by a 70-to-30 margin, which prohibits the sale of animal parts and products from 12 species, including rhino, cheetah, tiger, sea turtle, lion, elephant, whale, shark, pangolin, jaguar, ray, and leopard.

More than 150,000 signatures were gathered to put the measure on the ballot.

"Oregon has a long and proud history of supporting wildlife conservation. With this sweeping victory, Oregon has set an important example for the rest of the nation and joins efforts around the world to protect imperiled animals, such as elephants, whales and sea turtles," said Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

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Officials in the Yamalo-Nenets region in Siberia are proposing the culling of a quarter-million reindeer by Christmas in order to minimize the possible spread of anthrax, the Siberian Times reported.

Theso-called "zombie" anthrax outbreak in Siberia has been blamed on a thawed-out infected reindeer corpse that died several decades ago.Flickr

The deadly problem began over the summer, as record-high temperatures as warm as 95 degrees Fahrenheit thawed out an anthrax-infected reindeer buried in permafrost about 70 years ago. The outbreak killed a 12-year-old boy, claimed the lives of about 2,300 reindeer and four dogs and sickened about 100 people. It was the first time anthrax struck the region since 1941.

According to the Siberian Times, the proposal to kill 250,000 reindeer is dramatically higher than the number of animals that are annually culled in November and December.

To incentivize the nomadic herders to give up their herds, officials suggested a reward of an affordable mortgage to buy an apartment instead of a cash compensation.

An estimated 730,000 reindeer currently live in the Yamalo-Nenets region, an amount that Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service, said was already "too high."

"The more dense the animal population is, the worse the disease transfer medium (and) the more often animals get sick," the Russian federal veterinary official said. "Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated ... Otherwise, they will kill the pastures and later will destroy the indigenous minorities of the north who will have nothing to live on. It is impossible to breed reindeer without limits."

Critics, however, say the proposal to kill 250,000 reindeer would negatively impact the livelihoods of the nomadic Nenets, the indigenous reindeer-herding population who have called the region home for more than a thousand years.

"A huge number of nomads on the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas will lose their means of existence and opportunities to maintain their traditional way of life," anthropologist Olga Murashko told the Siberian Times. "Additionally, it is clear that within the short time frame given, the indigenous reindeer herders cannot be properly consulted on the administration's plans to annihilate a large number of reindeer."

As Survival International described:

"For the Nenets who are still nomadic, their lands and reindeer herds remain vitally important to their collective identity. Land is everything to us. Everything," said Sergei Hudi.

"The reindeer is our home, our food, our warmth and our transportation," Sergei Hudi told Survival.

Alexei Kokorin, head of the World Wildlife Fund Russia's climate and energy program, said the temperatures and the outbreak are connected to climate change.

"Such anomalous heat is rare for Yamal, and that's probably a manifestation of climate change," he told The Guardian in August.

The World Meteorological Organization warned last month that the Arctic's rapidly changing temperatures could affect the weather worldwide:

"Dramatic and unprecedented warming in the Arctic is driving sea level rise, affecting weather patterns around the world and may trigger even more changes in the climate system.

"The rate of change is challenging the current scientific capacity to monitor and predict what is becoming a journey into uncharted territory."

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