Testifying Before Congress to Protect the Polar Bear
So I got some exciting news late last week -- I have been asked by the US Congress to represent IFAW and testify this Thursday before a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources. The bill I’m testifying on seems relatively harmless if you’re comparing it to the horrific attempts to undermine species conservation currently underway by this Congress, but make no mistake -- in reality it is a bad law.
The bill, HR 991, creates an exemption to existing wildlife conservation laws in order to allow 41 big-game hunters the ability to bring back sport-hunted polar bear bodies, or “trophies,” after the species was listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act on May 15, 2008. This is the second time Congressman Young from Alaska has tried to pass this bill, and there is a good reason it didn’t pass the first time: it undermines America’s vital wildlife conservation laws, and it sets a horrible precedent catering to special-interest hunters to the detriment of wildlife conservation.
Hunting groups supporting the bill say that it’s not fair to deny the imports because these 41 hunters spent good money to hunt the bears, which were killed legally under Canadian law – the only polar bear range country that still allows commercial trophy hunts -- before the US announced the listing of the species as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. On its face, this argument sounds fair; but as soon as you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that this just doesn’t hold up.
On February 16th, 2005, a petition to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act was submitted to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This petition received considerable coverage in both the national and international media, as well as media outlets targeted to the US hunting community and outdoor enthusiasts. Additionally, sixteen months prior to actual listing of the polar bear by the US government, the US Fish & Wildlife Service launched a targeted outreach campaign aimed at the hunting community to inform them that a listing decision was coming, and that such a decision could result in a prohibition on import of hunting trophies. Even more pointedly, in January 2008, the Service informed potential applicants and the media that a decision on the listing was imminent and that, if the species was listed, further imports would not be authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
These 41 hunters knew for years scientists were saying that polar bears were in danger of extinction, they knew that a US decision on listing was imminent, and they knew that if the US government found the species threatened or endangered they would not be able to bring back their trophies. And yet they decided to take that risk, went to Canada, killed an imperiled species, and are now crying crocodile tears because they are being told that they can’t bring back the corpse of this endangered animal to mount in their homes back in the US.
Banning the import of species in danger of extinction is the United States’ best tool for conserving globally valued species. The US cannot keep other countries from exploiting their own wildlife. We cannot forbid Americans from going abroad to kill endangered species. But as a global leader in wildlife conservation, the US government can prohibit the import of endangered species back into our country. This is our best way to help save species in other countries.
And that is exactly what the US government is doing by keeping out these 41 polar bear trophies--trophies that were hunted in Canada by Americans who knew the species was imperiled, and were told that they would not be able to bring the trophies back if the government listed them as threatened or endangered.
If we allow these 41 polar bears to be imported into the US, we are not only flying in the face of two of our countries strongest laws protecting species -- the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act -- but we are also telling these 41 big-game hunters and all future trophy hunters that it is okay to go kill an animal that you know is imperiled. And that when you do, you can expect the US Congress to carve out special interest exceptions for you so that you can come back and flaunt your sport-hunted trophy to the world, endangered or not.
As I said earlier…this is one bad law. Let’s hope that Congress realizes it too. Otherwise expect more big-game hunters to line-up asking to bring back the endangered species they’ve killed abroad too.