No thrill for the kill of polar bears
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to testify before a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources regarding a bill introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK). Young’s bill, HR 991, seeks to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) to allow the importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada before the date the polar bear was determined to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This political maneuvering would allow for 41 hunters whose import permits were not approved before the ESA listing date to import their trophies from Canada into the United States. Last week, the bill reached the next step in a thankfully prolonged process—the Natural Resources Committee markup.
Although disappointingly neither the committee members nor the Fish and Wildlife Service offered any objections to the bill, Representative Garamendi of California tried to lessen the extent of damage this bill could do. He offered an amendment that would place a time cap of twelve months on the amended MMPA language. If this had been agreed to, the MMPA would revert back to its original language after a year had passed.
Unfortunately, Representative Young, with the help of Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington, was able to get this amendment thrown out, which makes me wonder what Representative Don Young’s true intentions are for the future of polar bear protection. Although he was not successful, I applaud Representative Garamendi’s attempt to prevent prolonged exploitation of this loophole.
Like I said during my testimony, and it still rings true today, HR 991 fundamentally undermines the critical relationship between the protections that species presently receive under the ESA and the MMPA. Banning the import of endangered species is one of the best tools we have in the U.S. to protect polar bears abroad. We cannot stop Americans from going to other countries and killing endangered species, but we can remove the enticement to do so.
Hopefully by not being able to bring trophies back home, the thrill of the kill is taken away. As the bill makes its way through the House and the Senate, we hope that our government will keep in mind that polar bears are already standing on thin ice. The short-term special interests of a small, select politically well-connected group of hunters must not take precedence over the long-term conservation efforts of one of our most beloved and iconic species.