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By Suzanne Potter, California News Service

Photo: Alaskan brown bear; Sapphoris/Pixabay

New rule would permit the use of steel leg-hold traps with teeth, spikes and serrated jaws.

November 2, 2020 (Sacramento) --  Time is running out for people to weigh in on a Trump administration plan to allow baiting and trapping of bears in Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The public comment period ends one week from today, on a new rule which would also permit hunters to kill cubs in their dens.

The U.S. Interior Department said the change would improve public access to the refuge, and better align its rules with state regulations.

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said the comments that have come in so far have been overwhelmingly negative.

"Brown bear-baiting has never been allowed on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and in the past, has been considered to be in conflict with the purposes of the refuge," Whittington-Evans explained.

California Congressman Ted Lieu cosigned a letter calling on the U.S. Interior Department to withdraw the rule, which would allow trapping without a federal permit.

The letter accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service of endorsing the State of Alaska's efforts to reduce predators in order to increase prey for hunters.

Brown bears are considered an isolated, at-risk population in Kenai's almost two million acres.

Whittington-Evans noted the new rule would permit the use of steel leg-hold traps with teeth, spikes and serrated jaws, which she said cause great suffering to any animal ensnared in them.

"The elimination of the requirement for a federal permit also means that trappers would not need to periodically check their traps, so animals could be inhumanely left trapped for long periods of time," Whittington-Evans cautioned.

Opponents worry unattended traps could be placed too close to campgrounds and trails, becoming a hazard for children, horses and dogs. In addition, the traps tend to attract and kill other forms of wildlife than trappers have targeted.

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