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May 12, 2011

The Humane Society of the United States Urges Congress to Oppose Importation of Polar Bear Trophies

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States urged the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife to reject a bill that would give American hunters permission to import trophies of polar bears killed in Canada. H.R. 991, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would carve out an exemption 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 originally prohibited under the MMPA from 1972 to 1994, and then banned again 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.

H.R. 991 is being cast as a private relief measure to help those 41 hunters bring in their personal trophies, but in reality the legislation would roll back a federal policy and provide even more incentive for American trophy hunters to accelerate the killing of species with pending ESA listing decisions. When import of the trophies are barred, hunters make the same personal appeal to Congress over and over again.

Polar bears are threatened by loss of sea ice which they require for their survival. Trophy hunting   further threatens the species 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.

Fewer than 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remain in the wild. The only population that appears to be increasing in size faces no pressure from sport hunting.

“We shouldn’t allow the importation of threatened or endangered species trophies just because they’re stockpiled in a warehouse and the animals have already been killed,” added Markarian. “Whether its elephant ivory or polar bear pelts, each time we allow trade in these protected species, we resuscitate the market for these items, increase the incentive for poaching and sport hunting, and make it harder for law enforcement to crack down on trafficking in wildlife contraband. It sets a severe and dangerous precedent that will encourage hunters to shoot endangered and threatened species, put the trophies in storage, and simply wait until their political allies can get them a congressional fix.” 

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. A 2010 study found that polar bear trophy hunting is less deeply rooted in Canada than many people realize.
  • It took active governmental effort in the early 1980s for trophy hunting to establish a toehold in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Many Inuit communities were slow to embrace trophy hunting with some communities resisting entirely. A far greater share of communities have either never hosted a polar bear trophy hunt or have hosted them sporadically than have hosted them on an annual basis.
  • Neither polar bear trophy hunting nor the economic benefits of such hunts are widespread in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Polar bear trophy hunting may well be of economic importance to a handful of people in several Inuit communities, but there are a significant number of Inuit communities and vast numbers of individuals who have no connections to polar bear trophy hunting and reap no economic gains from it. The economic benefits of polar bear trophy hunting were, even at their peak, far too limited and far too heavily concentrated in too few hands to amount to anything approximating a solution to the broader socio-economic troubles faced by Inuk people seeking to integrate subsistence food sourcing into their lives.    

Timeline:

1972 – The 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 hunters 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 many 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. 991 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 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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