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A bill is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk that would overturn Obama-era hunting restrictions protecting grizzly bears, wolves and other animals on national wildlife refuges in Alaska from hunting tactics such as aerial shooting, baiting and killing animals at their dens or with their cubs.
The Senate approved the bill to repeal the hunting restrictions on Alaska’s 16 federal wildlife refuges on Tuesday, in a vote largely split on party lines that pitted the issue of "states’ rights" and wildlife conservation. The bill was approved by a vote of 52-47.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued new hunting restrictions in August, which included bans on killing predators such as bears and wolves near their dens or with their cubs, aerial shooting, baiting and live trapping.
The FWS said at the time that the rule was intended to help maintain sustainable populations of predators such as bears, wolves and coyotes on the federal wildlife refuges.
The Senate’s approval of the bill to overturn the hunting limits this week means the measure now only needs Trump’s signature to become a law.
The bill was approved by the House last month by a vote of 225-193, again, mostly on party lines.
Alaska’s Republican lawmakers have said the FWS’s rule seized too much authority away from the state and was a case of federal overreach.
"We have to recognize this is not about the little polar bears, the little grizzly bears or wolves on television, this is about the state's right to manage — not allowing the federal government to do so," Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who sponsored the bill, said last month. "We want to be able to take and manage our fish and game for the sustainable yield — so that our fish and game will be there forever."
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said according to the AP that the FWS's rule "undercuts meaningful public participation in refuge management decisions (and) utterly disregards the legal protections and rights given to the state in the Alaska Statehood Act."
But Democrats and wildlife advocates said overturning the restrictions would lead to inhumane treatment of animals.
"This isn't about states' rights," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., according to the Associated Press. "It's not about prohibiting hunting. ... It's about how we can manage these wildlife refuges to the degree that agencies believe are necessary for the preservation of these wildlife heritage areas."
Nora Apter, legislative advocate in government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in statement to NBC News that the new bill would lead to "unnecessary and unsustainable" hunting methods.
“Hunting grizzlies, wolves and other animals from airplanes is scientifically indefensible — and unsportsmanlike," Apter said. "And to be clear, this is not an issue of states’ rights, as some in Alaska would have you believe. Rather, it’s about ensuring that federal lands set aside for wildlife conservation stay that way. This bill would set a dangerous precedent for unnecessary and unsustainable hunting methods on national wildlife refuges.''