Salvaging hope after suffering through a pointed Congressional attack
I look forward to the day when Congress better reflects these values. It can’t happen too soon for the sake of polar bears and other endangered animals.
Last Thursday, I testified in front of a U.S. Congressional committee on a bill that would allow 41 trophy hunters to import dead polar bears into the United States. Importing polar bear trophies is against the law because they’re a threatened species, so the International Fund for Animal Welfare is strongly opposed to the bill.
Having been invited to testify, I had hoped for a fair hearing in front of an open-minded committee. I certainly wasn’t expecting the bombastic attack that proceeded to come at me from the Chair of the Hearing, Rep. Don Young from Alaska and another Member of Congress from Louisiana, Rep. Jeff Landry.
It became very clear early on that they were not interested in hearing any side of the story other than what they had already decided (the Chair created a flurry of commotion and chatted loudly with staff during my entire 5-minute testimony). After being (sort of) given my time to outline the reasons why conservationists and animal welfare groups opposed this bill, the onslaught began.
The next forty minutes were basically a platform for Chairman Young and Landry to criticize the animal welfare movement, meanwhile promoting the big-game hunting agenda, which includes freedom to hunt endangered species. They completely dismissed the validity of science, and even included an assertion that still surprises me every time I hear it: They claimed human-caused climate change is a complete myth.
Chairman Young very proudly pointed out that he was the only Congressperson in the room that had ever killed a polar bear – which apparently means he knows the most about saving them. He also took time to list how many polar bears were killed by non-Americans last year, sadly ruing the fact that U.S. citizens were being denied the opportunity to make these kills themselves because of groups like IFAW (a fact that I take great pride in).
The hearing ended with the Chair applauding the witness on my panel who had recently killed a polar bear, but could not import the head and hide. This hunter killed a polar bear knowing the species was likely to be listed as endangered. He also knew that if the species was listed as endangered then he would not be able to import his trophy. He killed it anyway, and now thinks Congress should let him circumvent the law and import the dead bear anyway.
It was quite a day. So after some reflection, I am taking home two lessons from the experience. First, the opponents of protecting wildlife and endangered species are just as powerful, and steadfastly misinformed, as they have ever been. They are gleefully willing to throw out science and cling to unsubstantiated rhetoric that hunters are the only true conservationists in the world, even when they are hunting endangered species.
The second lesson, though, gives me more hope. The level of hatred and venom that I experienced can only be driven by fear. The mentality that Chairman Young and Representative Landry displayed at the hearing is the same one that nearly wiped out myriad species before – including polar bears, elephants, rhinos, and tigers - and is now looked down upon by incoming generations who value wildlife for more than their ability to dominate it. And that mentality is no longer appreciated. The vast majority of Americans –citizens around the world for that matter– value animals for their aesthetic, ecological, cultural, intrinsic, and economic value. The act of killing a rare animal with a firearm is no longer lauded. It is in fact more likely to be disdained.
It was a true honor to represent the millions of Americans who love and appreciate wildlife, and who don’t want to see endangered species killed for sport. That said, I look forward to the day when Congress better reflects these values. It can’t happen too soon for the sake of polar bears and other endangered animals.
For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world visit http://www.ifaw.org