ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A national environmental group is suing the federal government, claiming that a rule created to protect wolves and bears within Alaska wildlife refuges was illegally revoked this year through a seldom-used law.
The Center for Biological Diversity is challenging the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that allows Congress — by passing a joint resolution signed by the president — to repeal federal regulations adopted in the last months of a previous administration.
This year, Congress used the act to repeal a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule banning “predator control,” an Alaska program to kill wolves, black bears or grizzly bears to boost moose and caribou populations for human consumption.
The act also bars the Fish and Wildlife Service from adopting a similar rule in the future unless Congress authorizes the agency to do so.
According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Anchorage, such “congressional overreaching” illegally constrains future rulemaking by agencies, violates the Constitution and undermines the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.
“The Congressional Review Act throws the balance of power out of whack and opens the door for politicians in Congress to meddle in decisions that ought to be made by experts at federal agencies,” said attorney Colette Adkins in a prepared statement.
The Congressional Review Act was used only once before 2017. Since the Trump administration took office, the president and Congress have revoked 13 Obama-era regulations on environmental, education or energy measures, Adkins said.
Environmental organizations and animal rights groups have long objected to what Alaska wildlife managers call predator control or “intensive management.”
Alaska’s mandate for killing predators comes from a law passed by the state Legislature recognizing that certain moose, caribou, and deer populations are especially important human food sources. When those populations drop too low, the Alaska Board of Game, which regulates, hunting and trapping, can authorize killing of predators through liberal hunting and trapping laws or through extermination methods.
After repeatedly rejecting Alaska’s requests to expand predator control to national wildlife refuges, the Fish and Wildlife Service last year adopted the blanket rule, permanently banning the shooting of bears from the air, culling wolf pups and adults from dens, allowing hunters to shoot grizzly bears over bait, or allowing bears to be snared.
Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges cover about 120,000 square miles (310,800 sq. kilometers), an area slightly smaller than the state of New Mexico.
The federal law creating the refuges says they must be managed for natural diversity on Alaska wildlife refuges, Adkins said. Revoking the agency’s rule through the Congressional Review Act, she said, makes it more difficult for agency officials to carry out their legal duty.
An Interior Department spokeswoman referred requests for comment to the Department of Justice.
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