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The HSUS Calls on U.S. Senate to Reject S. 3525 – A Bill Tailored to Help the .001 Percent

Bill by Sen. Tester Jeopardizes Threatened Polar Bears, Promotes Poisoning of Wildlife and the Environment

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on the U.S. Senate to reject a last-minute attempt to pass S. 3525, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act of 2012,” this weekend before lawmakers recess for the November elections. Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., S. 3525 is a controversial omnibus bill that will encourage more American trophy hunters to trek to Canada to shoot threatened polar bears, and would stop biologists from making science-based management decisions on toxic lead poison. 

“Rather than dealing with important business for the country, the Senate seems intent on spending millions of tax dollars to benefit a few dozen wealthy trophy hunters who want a polar bear head or hide for their fancy living room,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Congress has allowed these imports several times, and with each successive cave-in to the trophy hunting lobby, the result is a de facto import allowance for shooting one of the world’s most imperiled and charismatic species. You’ve heard of policies for the 1 percent – but here’s a policy for the .001 percent of Americans who want to kill threatened polar bears.”

The legislation seeks to allow importation of polar bear trophies already taken in sport hunts in Canada, even though polar bears are listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, and it strips the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect the public and environment from lead through toxic ammunition exposure. A similar omnibus bill with the same general components, H.R. 4089, received a price tag of $12 million from the Congressional Budget Office.

“Hunting is a tradition here in Montana, but I’m not aware of any Montana hunter who would ever want to shoot a polar bear,” said Wendy Hergenraeder, Montana state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Rank-and-file sportsmen hunt deer and elk and ducks, but we don’t have polar bears here. Most sportsmen I know don’t want threatened polar bears to be put at risk and don’t want this special-interest provision slipped into a larger conservation bill.”

Facts on the polar bear trophy hunting provisions of S. 3525:

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act currently prohibits the sport hunting of polar bears in the U.S. and it prohibits the import of any marine mammal, including dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions and walruses. The law should be consistently applied, and we should not have a special carve-out for a few trophy hunters who shot polar bears in Canada, knowing full well that they may not be able to import the trophies under U.S. law.

  • While some argue this is just a small number of trophies, it encourages hunters to continue killing protected species in other countries, store the trophies in warehouses, and simply wait for their allies in Congress to get them a waiver on the imports. This is precisely the pattern – trophy hunters get the message from Congress that imports are allowed, and then they go up, shoot bears, and then plead their case again to the Congress for just one more shipment.

  • The bill would allow the import of polar bear trophies taken in Canada before the threatened listing became final under the ESA in May 2008, even though hunters knew for 16 months that the polar bear had been proposed for listing, and they rushed to kill these creatures anyway. Allowing this group of imports means that a proposed listing under the ESA simply creates an incentive for hunters to accelerate the pace of killing imperiled species, in the hopes of getting in under the wire.

  • The trophy hunting community was aware that the ESA listing would take place for 16 months prior to its effective date, and trophy hunters were repeatedly warned by federal agencies and hunting associations that the final listing would cut off imports immediately and they were hunting at their own risk. These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation.

  • The Tester language is so broad that the imports would be allowed even for hunters who did not submit their permit applications before the May 2008 final listing date.

  • The bill would also allow a second group of older trophies to be imported from polar bears taken in Canada between 1994 and 1997. When Congress carved a loophole in the MMPA in 1994, imports were not to be allowed until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  made findings to approve specific populations in Canada for import. The FWS did not make those findings until 1997. In the intervening three years, hunters rushed to Canada to kill polar bears, even though they knew the FWS would soon designate some populations “approved” and others “unapproved” for sport hunting.

  • The Tester language is so broad that any trophies taken during that three-year period can now be imported, even if from populations that were never approved. These hunters should not be rewarded for lacking the patience to wait until the FWS made its scientific findings, as the 1994 law required.

  • The FWS and a federal court have already rejected requests to import trophies after the effective date of the listing of polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. Congress should not override the courts and agency professionals just to satisfy a handful of trophy hunters who did not get their paperwork in on time.

  • There is no conservation or economic value in trophy hunting of polar bears. This is high-priced commercial hunting, and when an American trophy hunter spends $30,000 or more to shoot a polar bear, the hefty fees prompt over-exploitation of already vulnerable populations of bears. In 2005, the Nunavut territory of Canada increased hunting quotas by 29 percent, despite concerns expressed by polar bear researchers that the increase in take could be harmful to the population.

  • There has also been 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 spoils never reach Inuit hands, and when they do, those earnings vary substantially from community to community.” The funds are pocketed by commercial outfitters, and spent on transportation, hunting gear, and other incidentals—not spent on conservation.

Media Contact: Heather Sullivan: 240-477-2251, hsullivan@humanesociety.org