In February, the U.S. House of Representatives put into motion one of its most damaging and harrowing pieces of legislation in years: HJ Res 69, which allows for the deregulated killing of wild animals on 76 million acres of previously-protected federal reserves in the Alaskan wilderness. Soon afterwards, the Senate voted down party lines to confirm its safe passage onto the president. And last month, President Trump officially signed it into law. None of them blinked despite the carnage they had openly endorsed.
Coined the ‘predator control’ bill, this law nullifies federal protections passed last fall prohibiting legal forms of hunting on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. Those restrictions—which were adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—ran counter to Alaska’s previously-existing state constitutional mandate to manage its wildlife “for sustained yield.” In other words, these wildlife protections interfered with Alaska’s ability to provide adequate game for the state’s hunters.
As a meat-based food company with several wild game products, EPIC understands the need for quality game control. Many people rely on it to eat and make a living. But this ‘predator control’ law goes too far. It sacrifices cherished national lands by attacking essential wildlife that regulate expansive and sensitive ecosystems. It’s about money and dangerously powerful political lobbies. By tearing down the previous regulations protecting federal lands in Alaska, these lawmakers have effectively given hunters free reign to use every tactic at their disposal. That means allowing several controversial trapping and killing methods that will result in the slaughtering of hibernating bears, denning wolves, and packs of coyotes. The most prominent of these techniques involve baiting—which lures one’s prey into traps for a close-range kill, oftentimes from long distances—using nocturnal spotlighting to track and kill animals, and aerial spotting in planes and helicopters to locate targets from above. All in the name of predator control, right?
For the many who support this law, the answer is that simple. But there’s far more to the story. As bears, wolves, and coyotes have been roaming freely and naturally on these Alaskan reserves, they’ve lived as they were meant to: as predators. But because hunters have found it increasingly difficult to access moose and caribou—the most popular and attractive game in the region—they realized something had to change. So they picked up the ageless, merciless fight to establish who’s the greatest predator of all.
Waging war on animals and nature isn’t anything new, but this parallels a particularly shameful time in American history: the near-extermination of American bison. While it now proudly reigns as our National Mammal, our government facilitated the killing of millions of them throughout the 19th century. Their herds are slowly returning, but they’re a fraction of what they once were. Let’s not make the same mistake here with countless bears, wolves, and coyotes. We should learn from Yellowstone, instead.
In 1973, the Rocky Mountain wolf was on its last leg. Once a proud, roving predator emblematic of the American wild, it was listed as an endangered species and on the brink of extinction. Everything changed two decades later, when 41 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park in an emergency measure to save the population. It worked. 22 years after they were reintroduced, there are now over 500 Rocky Mountain wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They’re no longer endangered, but it goes further than that. They’ve played an integral predatory role in regulating an ecosystem that was previously overrun by deer. With this natural balance restored, Yellowstone has the most vegetation, least soil erosion, and broadest array of wildlife in it since the 19th century. For better or for worse, nothing in nature is isolated.
We’re at a tipping point for America’s wildlife. This law will inflict permanent damage on vital predator populations in some of our most beloved and important natural hubs. Despite efforts by the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, various Alaskan wildlife protection groups and many representatives of the National Park Service and Fish & Wildlife Service, our lawmakers have openly flaunted their disregard for natural order. If we don’t hold them accountable and fight for our country’s crucial wildlife, the animals that once molded this country’s rugged charisma will be marched towards their extinction. When that happens, we’ll have bigger questions to answer than who the apex predator is around here.