Under Cover of the Pandemic, The National Park Service Targets Baby Bears and Wolves

With the nation’s attention conveniently distracted by the pandemic, the National Park Service is slipping through rule changes that will allow hunters in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges to kill baby animals and their mothers in their dens, reversing existing regulations and violating every standard of conservation, decency, and compassion. I am outraged, and you should be, too.

Under the new rules, hunters will be permitted to:

  • use bait to attract and kill brown bears in federally protected lands
  • use artificial light to enter dens and kill black bears, including females and their cubs, as they hibernate
  • shoot caribou while they are swimming
  • trap and kill wolves and their pups during denning season

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) claims the new rules are a matter of “principle” and protecting states’ rights. “Principle” is not something normally associated with Sen. Sullivan or those who encourage killing living beings for fun and recreation. Killing for sport is an abomination and the slaughter of sleeping mothers and their young is as evil as it gets. It certainly has no place in our National Wildlife Refuges.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drafted the new rule before resigning in disgrace in 2018 in the face of no fewer than 17 federal ethics investigations, but the anti-animal, anti-environment federal administration pushed it through. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) has led more than 70 of her colleagues in Congress in demanding the rule be withdrawn.

“The proposed rule would roll back critical protections for America’s beloved, rare and iconic native carnivores, including brown bears, black bears and wolves on the approximately 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska—land that belongs to all Americans,” wrote the lawmakers. “The rule would effectively endorse the state of Alaska’s efforts to use extreme practices to reduce bear and wolf populations in order to artificially inflate populations of prey species for sport hunting.”

Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, had the opportunity to halt the rule changes but chose instead to ignore common sense and opposition by members of Congress, scientists, and tens of thousands of Americans. Said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, “Shooting hibernating mama and baby bears is not the conservation legacy that our national parks are meant to preserve and no way to treat or manage park wildlife.”

I urge everyone to contact their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives NOW and express your outrage and opposition to the National Park Service rule changes. Preserving wildlife, especially baby animals and their mothers, should not be a matter of political ideology but one of basic morality. This is an urgent call to save lives and preserve what’s left of our national decency.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.

America’s Largest Wildlife Refuge is a Refuge No More

My character on “Lassie,” Lucy Baker, was introduced in a three-part story in the spring of 1972. Lucy Baker was a nature-loving deaf girl who befriends Lassie and the two have many adventures together. In one of those first episodes, titled “Paths of Courage, Part One,” Lucy has a beloved pet wolf named Mountie. A sadistic sheep herder shoots Mountie and I have a tearful scene as the wolf dies in my arms. It turned out to be one of the most memorable scenes of my acting career.

The wolf playing Mountie was tranquilized so that he would lay quietly in my arms, as seen in the accompanying photo. I felt horrible that this poor wolf was tranquilized for a scene, but that’s what happens to a lot of animals in TV and movies; they don’t ever get to live their lives the way nature intended. Luckily for Mountie, he had a goodhearted trainer in the person of Pat Derby. Pat Derby later became an outspoken advocate for animals, and I’ll tell you more about her in my forthcoming book. Anyway, my job was to kneel over Mountie and cry my eyes out. I was given very specific instructions not to put my face near his; a wild animal, especially when tranquilized, may react badly to his space being invaded. I heeded my instructions and was very, very cautious.

The director called for action, and I began to sob pitifully over my mortally wounded companion, all the while taking care to avoid putting my face near his. The wolf must not have been fully tranquilized because, as my tears fell he began to rouse. At first, I’m sure I was the only one to notice, but when he slowly lifted his head to look at me, I could sense a nervous stir among the crew.

The wolf began to lick the tears from my face. I was startled, but continued acting, unwilling –afraid, is the better word – to break the scene. It was so sweet – and so scary. The more I cried, the more the wolf licked my face. It dawned on me that this big, beautiful animal was trying to console a weeping little girl with kisses!

My instinct to carry on while the camera rolled proved a good one. The resulting footage of Lucy sobbing over her dying pet, with the wolf tenderly kissing his grieving companion goodbye, was nothing short of remarkable. Ever since then I’ve always had a special place in my heart for wolves.

Did you know that legislation was finally enacted a few years ago to stop the slaughter of wolves by cowardly humans using high-powered rifles from inside low-flying airplanes and helicopters? Did you also know that last year, with a stroke of his pen, the president rescinded the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule and opened the door for hunters to hunt and kill wolves, bears, and other animals within Alaska’s national wildlife refuges? Yes, both the House and Senate approved a measure to repeal existing legislation that protected Alaska’s most iconic animals on more than 76,000,000 acres, the largest land-based, federally-protected area in the United States.

Once again, the killing of wolves and hibernating bears and the slaughter of cubs and pups in their dens is permitted in one of America’s last great wildlife refuges. Legal again are hunters scouting, chasing, and and killing brown and black bears from airplanes and helicopters. Legal again are trapping methods like steel-jawed leg hold traps, wire snares, and the luring of scavenging bears with food so that they may be shot at point-blank range. Despite years of relentless work by over 70 groups, many of them made up of Alaskan citizens, the law that protected these majestic wild creatures on the people’s land – land specifically created to protect and conserve native American wildlife and habitats in their natural diversity – has been senselessly and tragically wiped from the books.

Steel jaw traps are banned or heavily restricted in many US states. Such traps inflict excruciating pain not only on the targeted animals, but also on any other animal that unknowingly sets off the trap, for these traps do not kill on impact, they snap shut on the leg or other body part when the victim steps on it. The trap inflicts deep puncture wounds to prevent the animal from writhing around and pulling itself free. Imagine slamming your hand in a car door with teeth and waiting in excruciating pain to die of shock, exposure, dehydration, starvation, or infection.

Leg hold traps, also banned in many countries around the world, are used primarily for foxes, coyotes, wolves, and lynx. These traps, which consist of a metal footplate with curved jaws and powered springs, break and crush the animal’s limb. Immobilized, the animal is trapped where they are, easy prey for predators, and without shelter from harsh weather conditions. Many become so desperate to escape they attempt to chew or wring off their trapped limb, breaking their teeth or bones in the process. When they don’t return to their den, their babies are left alone, unable to fend for themselves, and they die, too.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, spoke of the legislative surrender to special interests, saying, “What the Senate did should outrage the conscience of every animal lover in America,” adding, “The passage of this bill means that we’ll see wolf families killed at their dens, bears chased down by planes or suffering for hours in barbaric steel-jawed traps or snares.”

Although the repeal of the law was signed by the president, there are still ways to reduce the suffering for these animals. The main way is to stop buying fur products and to encourage others to do the same. Many animals are hunted for their pelts, and if there is no demand for them, there will be less reason for hunters to trap them. We can also spread awareness about this heinous slaughter, send letters to our representatives in Congress, and sign petitions to end the horrific torture caused by these practices.

Many animal rights groups are calling for a ban on inhumane traps. Although the situation is sickening for animal lovers, there is hope. More than 100 countries have banned leg hold traps while 85 nations have banned steel jaw traps; let’s add the United States to those lists!

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!