Senate Votes to Allow Hunting of Grizzly Bears in Alaska Refuges

mother grizzly bear with cubs in katmai national park.
Even grizzly bear cubs wouldn't be off-limits for hunters with the new resolution on hunting in Alaska wildlife refuges. (Image credit: karengesweinphotography/

The U.S. Senate voted, mostly along party lines, on Tuesday (March 21) to abolish a regulation that prohibited certain types of hunting in Alaska national wildlife refuges.

In the 52-to-47 vote, the Senate used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn a so-called midnight regulation that President Barack Obama's administration passed in their last hours in office last year. (Under the 1996 CRA, Congress can, in an expedited fashion, eliminate any regulation, which then can't be reinstated in a "substantially similar" form, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The justification for the abolition was that states, not the federal government, should shape regulations regarding wildlife within their borders, according to the Washington Post. [Should We Hunt Yellowstone Grizzly Bears? (Op-Ed)]

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., opposed the effort to abolish hunting regulations in Alaska refuges, saying at the hearing that in his view the new law would "turn back the clock 100 years on the management of our native wildlife on our national wildlife refuges in Alaska."

The new resolution would allow trapping, baiting and aerial shooting of wildlife, such as wolves and grizzly bears, on Alaska's refuges, the Washington Post reported.

Rather than supporting hunters, "what the CRA before us in my view puts at risk when you vote to put the federal stamp of approval on methods of take that the public views as objectionable even unethical, when you allow that ideologically driven style of game management to even permeate the sanctity of our national wildlife refuges, I don't think that's standing up for hunters," Heinrich said at the hearing. "I fear that it's endangering the future of something that is critical to culture and way of life."

The National Rifle Association, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska chapter of the Safari Club International all backed the overturning of the hunting regulations, according to the Post. 

The Sierra Club issued a statement strongly opposing the overruling. "Now hunters can kill grizzlies and wolves on Alaska's wildlife refuges, including mother grizzlies with their cubs, and wolves with their pups in their dens. State wildlife officials can even shoot at grizzly bears from helicopters," they said.

Some senators and others who support the new resolution suggest that by ridding areas of predators, such hunting will bring back dwindling wildlife prey populations, such as elk, moose and caribou. The problem, according to the Sierra Club, is that there's no scientific evidence to back up the idea that controlling predators brings back other wildlife.

"This resolution undermines science-based wildlife management and the basic premise of public lands as places for wildlife conservation," Alli Harvey, Alaska representative with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign, said in the Sierra statement. "It overrides fundamental national environmental safeguards in the name of narrow special interests."

Original article on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.