The Trump administration is systematically rolling back protections for endangered wildlife and expanding rights for hunters, winning cheers from sporting associations but worrying environmentalists who fear it will lead to the extinction of protected species.
The National Park Service announced last week it would end an Obama-era protection that prohibited the hunting of bear cubs, as well as wolves and pups in their dens, in Alaska’s national preserves.
Under the proposal, which is not yet final, Alaska could decide whether to allow these hunting practices, in addition to the targeting of animals from boats and the use of bait to lure in animals for hunting.
Animals rights groups call the hunting practices barbaric, while the administration championed the decision as a win for state’s rights.
That same day, the Interior Department also announced it was expanding hunting access at 30 national wildlife refuges across the country.
The rule would open or expand 248,000 acres to hunting and allow for the first time a number of new activities on the public land, including big game hunting.
Groups worried about the proposals see them as an attack on protections for animals that have broad public support and view the administration as doing the bidding of hunting groups.
“It really feels like this assault on the animals and wildlife,” said Kitty Block, the Humane Society’s acting president. “It’s not a slow drip, drip, it’s a full-on fire hose of decisions coming out that are really scary.”
Environmentalists are also worried about budget cuts for programs meant to help endangered species. The White House budget proposal for fiscal 2019 seeks to cut the species listing budget from $20.5 million to just under $11 million.
“I think it’s all culminating,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They are getting their feet under them and thinking about different ways to roll back protections for our most imperiled wildlife.”
Groups representing hunters say the measures are simply good policy.
Hunting and gun association representatives and officials within the Interior Department argue it makes sense to revise protections when animal populations rebound and that unyielding regulations place unnecessary burdens on landowners and developers.
They also say expanding hunting is good for the economy.
According to the proposed rule, opening new areas to hunting in the national wildlife refuges alone will raise $711,000 for the department in recreation-related expenditures, with a ripple effect yielding a total economic impact of approximately $1.6 million nationwide.
“As stewards of our public lands, Interior is committed to opening access wherever possible for hunting and fishing so that more families have the opportunity to pass down this American heritage,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said when announcing the rule.