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November 13, 2012

The Humane Society of the United States Releases New Report on Threats to Polar Bears

Urges Congress to oppose S. 3525, on today’s Senate calendar, to allow imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies

As the U.S. Senate reconvenes today, and first on its schedule is the consideration of S. 3525, a bill that would allow the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, The Humane Society of the United States issued a new report highlighting the threats to polar bear conservation and future protected species. The report, “On Thin Ice: The Dangerous Impact of Allowing Polar Bear Trophy Imports,” urges Congress to oppose S. 3525 and reject a bailout for 41 wealthy American trophy hunters who want a special allowance for importing trophies from a threatened species.

"Polar bear populations are declining, and we must do everything we can to slow the mortality of these majestic creatures. Congress should not use the lame-duck session to pass a special-interest bill that puts threatened polar bears in further jeopardy,” said Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer for The HSUS. “This is just the latest in a series of congressional import allowances for polar bear trophies, and the cumulative impact encourages more reckless killing of imperiled animals around the globe.”

S. 3525, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., 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. Import of polar bear trophies was banned on May 15, 2008, when the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act. The bill is on the Senate calendar for today as the first item of business, and similar legislation, H.R. 4089, has already passed the House of Representatives.

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. Congress has several times granted these import allowances, a de facto repeal of the import ban, sending a message to trophy hunters that they should continue killing imperiled species and will eventually get approval to bring home their trophies.

It is estimated there are fewer than 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining in the wild. The only population that appears to be increasing in size no longer faces pressure from trophy hunting.

Click here to read The HSUS’ report.

Facts:

  • Polar bears are found exclusively in the Artic. Of the 19 populations in the world, 13 of them are in Canada.  Polar bears are a threatened species that face extraordinary pressures, including melting ice, overharvesting, and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the polar bear as “Vulnerable” based on a projected population reduction of more than 30 percent within three generations (45 years) due to a decrease in distribution and habitat quality.

  • The polar bear is inherently unsuitable as a target for sport hunting.  It is a naturally rare species that relies on high adult survival, has a low birth rate and high cub mortality, inhabits a marginal environment, and is extremely vulnerable to the effects of habitat degradation triggered by climate change and pollution.  Trophy hunters preferentially select the largest adults, which genetically may be the individuals that are most needed to sustain population numbers.

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act currently prohibits the sport hunting of polar bears in the U.S. and the import of any marine mammal, including dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions and walruses.

  • Polar bears are threatened by loss of sea ice, which they require for their survival. Trophy hunting intensifies the threat by killing bears who already struggle 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.

  • S. 3525 and H.R. 4089 would allow the import of polar bear trophies taken in Canada before the threatened listing became final under the ESA in May 2008. 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 at least 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 that they were hunting at their own risk. These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation.

  • The language in S. 3525 and H.R. 4089 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 FWS and a federal court already rejected requests to import trophies after the effective date of the listing of polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.

  • There is no conservation value in trophy hunting of polar bears. This is high-priced recreational hunting, and when an American trophy hunter spends $30,000 to $50,000 to shoot a polar bear, the hefty fees prompt over-exploitation of already vulnerable populations of bears.

  • In 2011, the Nunavut territory of Canada increased its hunting quota by more than 250 percent – from 8 bears to 21 - despite concerns expressed by polar bear researchers that the increase in take could be harmful to the population. Nunavut has plans to increase it even further for the 2013 season, to 24 bears.

  • Much of the money spent on polar bear hunts does not even reach the impoverished Inuit communities. The Nunavut newspaper, Nunatsiaq News, concluded in 2005 that “most of the [financial benefits from sport hunts] never reach Inuit hands.”  Much of the expenditure is pocketed by commercial guides and outfitters and spent on transportation, hunting gear, and other incidentals – not on conservation.

Timeline:

  • 1972 – Marine Mammal Protection Act passes, prohibiting the killing of and trade in all marine mammals, including the hunting or importation of sport-hunted polar bears.

  • 1994 – Trophy hunters get Congress to carve out a loophole in the MMPA, which allows for more than 900 sport-hunted polar bear trophies to be imported into the United States from Canada since 1997.

  • 2003 -- Congress again amends the MMPA such that the statute, on its face, permits the import of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada before February 1997. This allows imports regardless of what population the bear is taken from, and as long as the hunter proves that the bear is “legally harvested in Canada.”

  • 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. Trophy hunting groups urge people to kill polar bears in advance of the anticipated listing date, and that's clearly what many hunters did.

  • 2008 – Polar bears are officially listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Media Contact: Rebecca Basu: 240-753-4875; rbasu@humanesociety.org

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