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September 22, 2009

The HSUS Urges Congress to Oppose Importation of Polar Bear Trophies

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States today urged the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife to reject a bill that would give hunters permission to import trophies of polar bears. H.R. 1054, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically to allow 41 hunters, who ignored warnings from hunting organizations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that a polar bear trophy import ban was likely to take place, to nonetheless import their trophies. Import of polar bear trophies was banned on May 15, 2008, when the species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"Polar bear protections should not be subverted simply to pacify a handful of trophy hunters who, with full knowledge that the species would likely be listed because of serious threats to its survival, chose to ignore all warnings from the U.S. government and hunting groups, and pursue a bear for their trophy room. It's a self-inflicted problem, yet they are asking Congress for a government bail-out," said Michael Markarian, chief operating officer of The HSUS, as part of his statement to the Subcommittee.

Polar bears are threatened by loss of sea ice, which they require for their survival. Trophy hunting exacerbates the threat of sea ice loss by killing bears who are already struggling to survive in a changing climate. In 2007, the last full year when polar bear trophy imports were allowed, 112 polar bear trophies were imported to the United States — more than double the number from the previous year.

There are probably fewer than 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining in the wild. The only population that appears to be increasing in size faces no pressure from hunting.

Click to read The HSUS' testimony.

Facts:

  • The United States does not allow sport hunting of polar bears in Alaska, and only Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt these bears for subsistence. Commercial hunting is an incentive for higher polar bear mortality. An American trophy hunter pays about $35,000 for a polar bear hunt in Nunavut. Because the sport hunts are highly lucrative, Canadian wildlife managers may feel pressure to increase quotas beyond sustainable levels. In 2005, Nunavut increased hunting quotas by 29 percent, despite concerns expressed by polar bear researchers that the increase in take could be harmful to the populations. 
  • There is no evidence that money charged for polar bear hunting permits is essential to local communities or wildlife conservation. An August 2005 article in the Nunatsiaq News, a Nunavut newspaper, concluded that "most of the [financial benefits from sport hunts] never reach Inuit hands, and when they do, those earnings vary substantially from community to community." Even if a portion of the money went to polar bear conservation, it is still unsustainable for sport hunters to kill a species that is threatened by climate change and vanishing habitat. Saving these bears will not come from money derived from killing them, but from eliminating the financial incentives to increase the quotas and from protecting their habitat.
  • The USFWS is considering submitting a proposal to protect polar bears from international trade at next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The HSUS has urged USFWS to submit the proposal.

Timeline

  • 1972 – Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed, prohibiting the killing of and trade in all marine mammals, including the hunting or importation of sport-hunted polar bears.
  • 1994 – Trophy hunting achieved a loophole in the MMPA, allowing more than 900 sport-hunted polar bear trophies to be imported into the United States from Canada since 1997.
  • 2007 – United States proposes to list polar bears as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The listing decision is set for 2008.
  • 2007 – The number of polar bear trophies imported into the United States rises dramatically in advance of the listing—to 112 trophies, more than doubling 2006's 52 imports. The hunting groups were urging people to get their polar bears before the listing took effect, and that's clearly what most hunters did.
  • 2008 – Polar bears are officially listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most if not all of the 41 polar bear trophies that would be affected by H.R. 1054 were shot in bad faith, since the dates of the sport hunts occurred in late 2007 or early 2008—after the agency and hunting groups provided ample warning that trophy imports might soon be barred. After being given more than a year of notice from the USFWS and warnings from various hunting organizations, some chose to either book a hunt in the few months prior to the listing, or chose to wait to submit an application to import their trophies even after the species was listed. These individuals did so at their own risk.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by nearly 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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