Polar Bears Need Conservation, Not Politics
In January, as hordes of new Members of Congress were being sworn into the House of Representatives, one Congressional veteran, Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) saw the shift in power as an opportunity and introduced a bill aimed at overturning the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Congressman Young introduced his bill because the endangered listing prohibits American trophy hunters from importing the carcasses of the polar bears that they kill in Canada. IFAW opposes the importation of polar bear trophies – as it would the importation of any hunting trophies made from animals under threat of extinction. But Congressman Young’s bill, if passed, could set a dangerous precedent for all species, not just the polar bear.
The ESA, signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, set forth a comprehensive strategy to protect endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Under the Act, wildlife experts within the Federal government rely on the best available science to determine whether a species is in danger of extinction.
In 2008, after lengthy deliberation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the polar bear was threatened with extinction, primarily due to the effects of climate change and the melting of the sea-ice upon which polar bears depend. That decision lead to a number of direct conservation benefits for the species including the protection of critical habitat in Alaska and the ban on imports of polar bear trophies.
But if Congressman Young gets his way, the careful scientific reasoning and decision-making process undertaken by FWS would all be for naught. This bill’s successful passage would set a tragic precedent, potentially opening a floodgate of Congressional action aimed at overturning endangered species listings for political purposes.
Battles over Congressman Young’s wanton disregard for science when science doesn’t fit within his pre-conceived notions about the “value” of killing endangered species may end up being one of the first waged in a war over Federal protection of endangered species. Unless we remain steadfast in our defense of the ESA, any number of species may be sacrificed by unrepentant Members of Congress who place exploitative special interests above the interests of the vast majority of Americans who value wildlife and want to see endangered species protected.
Decisions whether to list species as endangered or threatened must be made by scientists and other experts, not by those few Members of Congress who are all too willing to sacrifice the long term recovery of endangered species to the whims of wealthy American trophy-hunters looking to bag one of the Arctic’s last remaining great white bears before they disappear forever.