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Groups Applaud Federal Appeals Court Upholding Endangered Species Act Listing for Polar Bears

Ban on importation of polar bear hunting trophies still intact

IFAW, Defenders of Wildlife

A coalition of groups is applauding a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reject a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 decision to list polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The ruling keeps in place the current ban on the import of trophies of sport-hunted polar bears from Canada.

 “The Humane Society of the United States is  pleased the Court has upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to step up and take action to pull this species back from the brink of extinction,” said Ralph Henry, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at The HSUS. “Extremist trophy hunting groups like Safari Club International should see the writing on the wall, and drop their misguided efforts to reopen the trade in polar bear trophies.”

Jeff Flocken, North American regional director, International Fund for Animal Welfare said, “Climate change, habitat degradation and pollution already have polar bears on thin ice. Trophy hunting only exacerbates an already dire situation. Today’s decision to keep the status of the polar bear as threatened is an important step in the fight to safeguard the species against trophy hunting. The Endangered Species Act is the strongest tool we have to protect polar bears from the threat of hunting, and pro-trophy hunting organizations will always attempt to circumvent it. We applaud the Court for making sure protections for polar bears remain intact.”

Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “The court’s decision confirms that polar bears need our help more than ever.  Polar bears today face a multitude of challenges, including melting sea ice, diminished food supply, the threat of Arctic drilling and pollution.  Securing protections for the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act is our best chance to keep this species from going extinct.”

The HSUS, IFAW, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups intervened in the case to defend the government’s decision to list polar bears and close down the trade in polar bear hunting trophies against a multitude of legal attacks filed by the State of Alaska, oil and gas interests, and the extremist trophy-hunting groups Safari Club International and Conservation Force.

Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits trophy hunting of polar bears in Alaska and bars the killing or import of all other marine mammals, trophy hunting groups convinced Congress to push a loophole through the law in 1994, allowing American hunters to import polar bear trophies from Canada. Since then, more than 900 polar bear heads and hides have been imported into the United States by wealthy trophy hunters. The 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the ESA once again prohibited the import of trophy-hunted polar bears into the United States. The gun lobby and its allies in Congress continue to push legislation for more import allowances of sport-hunted polar bear trophies.

A decline in polar bear numbers in recent years has been linked to the retreat of sea ice and its formation later in the year. Ice is also breaking up earlier and this trend is likely to continue. Bears have been forced ashore before they have time to build sufficient fat stores, resulting in thinner, stressed bears, fewer cubs and lower survival rates. Faced with habitat loss and population decline, polar bears should not also have to contend with high-priced trophy hunting.

The HSUS, IFAW and Defenders of Wildlife were represented in the case by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C.


  • Trophy hunting of polar bears is currently banned in the United States, and only Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt small numbers of bears for subsistence.
  • Scientists estimate there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic — more than half are in Canada and most of these are in Nunavut. Throughout their range, polar bears face unprecedented threats from global climate change, environmental degradation and hunting.
  • Of the five "polar bear nations" (Canada, Denmark for Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States), only Canada allows polar bear trophy hunting.
  • A recent analysis by the United States Geological Survey predicted that two of the six polar bear populations from which Americans imported polar bear trophies would be gone by the year 2050, with the remaining four disappearing by the end of this century.
  • Trophy hunters target the largest and most fit bears, which are the animals critical to ensuring the survival of polar bear populations.

Media contacts:
The HSUS: Kaitlin Sanderson, 301-721-6463, ksanderson@humanesociety.org
IFAW: Abby Berman, 646-695-7044, abby@rosengrouppr.com
Defenders of Wildlife: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

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