Federal agency plans to prohibit bear baiting in national preserves in Alaska

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The National Park Service said Friday it intends to ban hunters from baiting bears in national preserves in Alaska.

The new rule, set to take effect later this summer, would bar sport hunters from using bait, such as bacon grease, pastries, syrup or dog food, to attract bears, the agency said in a statement. Baiting “encourages bears to become conditioned to human-provided food, increasing the likelihood of negative human-bear interactions," the agency said.

The issue has been a subject of intense debate and litigation.

Conservation groups in 2020 sued over a Trump administration-era rule that allowed certain hunting practices authorized by the state — including bear baiting — to take place on federally run national preserves. The Trump administration's plan rolled back an Obama-era rule that had banned non-subsistence hunters from engaging in such things as bear baiting or using dogs to hunt black bears, killing wolves during denning season and taking swimming caribou.

In 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason found several problems with the Trump-era rule. She found, among other things, that the plan was “arbitrary and capricious because NPS disregarded without explanation its conclusion in 2015 that State regulations fail to adequately address public safety concerns associated with bear baiting.”

Gleason sent the rule back to the agency for further work, and the park service said Friday that the new rule addresses concerns she'd raised.

Early last year, the agency proposed prohibiting the same hunting methods that were barred during the Obama administration. But as part of the new rule, the park service said it opted to focus on bear baiting and not address the other hunting practices “at this time, though it may re-evaluate whether regulatory action is necessary in the future.”

“Concerns with the other practices do not carry the same degree of urgency,” the agency said. “They are either already prohibited by the state or occur on a limited basis.”

Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy adviser with Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups involved in the litigation, said the planned new rule is an improvement over the Trump-era plan.