Murkowski: FWS Rule Is Unwarranted Takeover of State’s Rights

Agency Uses Regulatory Process to Seize Control of Wildlife Management in Alaska Refuges

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today slammed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for finalizing a new rule that preempts the State of Alaska’s jurisdiction over wildlife management in national refuges within Alaska. The rule grants the FWS broad authority over predator control, bans science-based practices developed by the State of Alaska in consultation with the public, and will ultimately threaten wildlife populations that are vital for both subsistence and non-subsistence purposes.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has once again decided that it knows what is best for us, and is trampling Alaska’s long-standing right to manage wildlife in refuges,” Murkowski said. “What we know, from experience, is that this will not end well for anything but predator populations. I find it shocking that this administration’s policies are pointing to a future where we can fill our freezers with genetically engineered salmon, but not the moose and other game we have traditionally harvested in a sustainable manner from our refuges.” 

Among other fatal flaws, the FWS rule fails to recognize that the State of Alaska, not the federal government, has clear primacy over wildlife management under legal authority provided by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Refuge Improvement Act, and the Alaska Constitution. The implications of the FWS rule are also far-reaching, as Alaska has 76.8 million acres of refuges, and it will likely serve as a model for similar takeovers in the Lower 48.

The FWS rule was accompanied by an unusual opinion piece written by Director Dan Ashe, which attempts to make a case for the new rule but does not contain a single statistic to demonstrate that state wildlife management practices are ineffective. The piece is titled “Keep Public Lands Public—And The Wildlife They Protect!” – which is ironic, as the agency initially sought to extend the maximum length of temporary closures from 12 months to three years, and in its final rule extended the maximum length of emergency closures.

“I’m very disappointed to see Director Ashe criticizing the Alaska Board of Game and attempting to politicize this issue,” Murkowski said. “His writing makes clear that this is about ideology and power – not responsible management or good government.”

Murkowski’s concern about the federal government’s mismanagement of wildlife is well-founded, as illustrated by its track record with wild horses and burros in western states. While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has established a target population of 27,000 animals, the current estimate is 67,000. BLM fertility control methods have proven largely ineffective, taxpayers now spend about $50 million per year to care for horses and burros in off-range holding areas, and competition for resources is increasingly leading to starvation, dehydration, and additional emergency gathers by the agency.        

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In April 2016, Murkowski called on the FWS to withdraw its draft refuges rule. She will continue to work with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on legislation to halt its implementation.