Washington, DC — The State of Alaska is using federal wildlife restoration grants to illegally support killing wolves and bears to increase moose and caribou hunting, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Inspector General. The complaint details how state predator control programs funded by federal grants violate regulations and must be repaid in order for the state to qualify for renewed funding.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Federal-Aid funding under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act provides critical support for Alaska’s predator management projects. In Fiscal Year 2014 alone, Alaska received more than a million dollars in federal grants for 11 studies supporting what the state calls its “Intensive Management” (IM) program, a euphemism for predator control. Almost all of these IM research projects used the maximum proportion of federal funding. They constitute the overwhelming majority of the total state predator control annual costs of $1.4 million.
“It is clear from the released documents that the State of Alaska has for years surreptitiously, and illegally, supported its predator control operations with federal funds,” said Rick Steiner, a PEER Board member and retired University of Alaska professor who obtained the documents supporting the complaint, noting that the IM program involves state biologists and contracted pilot-gunner teams shooting wolves, brown bears and black bears from aircraft, which has sparked both scientific and political controversy. “At very least, states must be barred from using any federal funds to support this practice, including any funds for salaries of staff engaged in predator control, or tracking of wolves and bears prior to control efforts.”
The PEER complaint points out that these grants violate federal regulations requiring that the activities benefit “a diverse array of wildlife and associated habitats, including species that are not hunted or fished.” Clearly, killing predators does not benefit the predators and none of the state research concerned non-game animals. In addition, the federal grants for predator management lack environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Alaska contends that the funded research has purposes independent of IM but the documents show that this research is an integral part of IM and even declares that its principal purpose is game management through reducing predation. Indeed, no other use of the research is identified.
“The fig leaf that these studies have some use beyond predator control does not withstand scrutiny – this is a diversion of federal wildlife funds, pure and simple,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the complaint, noting that unless U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service halts these grants that federal agency is vulnerable to civil suits for failure to ensure NEPA compliance. “Alaska is entitled to manage wildlife but it is not entitled to money from taxpayers in the other 49 states to do so.”
PEER is requesting the Interior Office of Inspector General audit use of Federal-Aid dollars by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in order to determine the exact amount of ineligible expenditures over the past several years and obtain reimbursement (with interest) of all non-complaint funds. Unless and until that reimbursement is paid, Alaska would be debarred from receiving future grants. In addition, the state must enact legislative safeguards to prevent future diversions of federal grants from eligible uses. Altogether, Alaska received $32.5 million in federal Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration funds this fiscal year.