The battle over Dual (state or federal) Wildlife Management in Alaska could be headed to the U.S. Supreme over the 2015 Kenai Rule
Back in 2013 the Alaska Board of Game (BOG) exercised it’s authority to manage game on federal public lands in the Kenai Refuge. The BOG chose to increase the opportunity to harvest a surplus of brown bear to reduce numbers to what they considered a sustainable level. Baiting brown bear was one of the methods of take approved by the BOG. The BOG also chose to create a season for the harvest of coyotes, lynx, and wolves along the road accessible Skilak Loop road. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) considered these actions adopted by the BOG as incompatible with the uses of the Kenai Refuge under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and blocked the state from implementing the increased harvest opportunities.
In May 2015, FWS published their proposed rule codifying the banning of baiting of brown bears and closures to hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. Thus, the Kenai Rule was born, and the battle in federal court over “who” has the authority to manage game on federal public lands in Alaska began.
Now seven years later the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked by the State of Alaska (SOA) and Safari Club International (SCI) to take up the case and settle it once and for all. On April 18, 2022 the SOA and SCI received a severe blow from the Ninth Circuit Court when they tried to appeal the loss in Alaska District Court of their challenge of the Kenai Rule. The 9th Circuit Court chose not only to vacate the Kenai Rule but to expand the ban on baiting brown bear statewide on FWS lands. The 9th Circuit Court determined that none of the laws passed by Congress regarding management of wildlife on federal lands trumped the federal government’s “plenary power” authority over public lands in Alaska.
So what started out over “who” has the authority to regulate methods & means of brown bear harvest on the Kenai Refuge under the Kenai Rule has now been expanded statewide, potentially to all wildlife, on the +60% of Alaska under federal ownership.
The result of the 9th Circuit Court decision on the Kenai Rule would be devastating to wildlife management and the ability of all Alaskans to hunt on federal lands. Because of that fact the Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC) joined with the Alaska Professional Hunters Association (APHA) and the national Sportsman’s Alliance Foundation (SAF) to file an amicus brief in support of the SOA Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Supreme Court Case No. 22-401 (SOA v. the U.S. Secretary of the Interior).
The Alaska Department of Law’s certiorari petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Kenai Rule is excellent. SCI has filed their own amicus brief in support of the state.
Because of the threat of federal land managers taking over state authority to manage wildlife the state of West Virginia and 13 other states have also amicus briefs in support of Alaska’s certiorari petition. All these amicus briefs will help convince the Supreme Court of the necessity of taking up the state’s petition be heard.
If the Supreme Court fails to take up the Kenai Rule and not hear the case the battle over “who” manages wildlife on federal lands in Alaska will continue perpetuity, and that won’t be good for all hunters choosing to hunt in Alaska.