Animal Welfare and Conservation Groups Urge Senate to Protect Polar Bears from Trophy Hunting

Thursday, 17 May, 2007
Washington, D.C.
Today, three leading animal protection and conservation groups – The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare – called on the Senate to act on bipartisan legislation introduced today that would close a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act which currently allows wealthy American trophy hunters to bring the heads and hides of hundreds of imperiled polar bears into the United States. The allowance of imports of polar bear trophies provides an incentive for American trophy hunters to trek to the arctic Canada to kill these remarkable animals. Without the import permits, American hunters would not kill the polar bears.
The legislation, S. 1406, to close the loophole in the law was introduced by U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Earlier this week, U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) introduced H.R. 2327, an identical bill in the House of Representatives.

“The polar bear has become a tragic symbol of our threatened environment, and of the wildlife that pays the price for dangerous practices,” Sen. Kerry said. “It’s time to put the polar bear on the Endangered Species List, and give them a fighting chance at survival. But it also means that we must close the loophole that allows for trophy hunting by U.S. sport hunters in Canada. Not only must these bears contend with their home melting away, but they are also being hunted in the limited habitat they have left. It’s time to take responsibility for their survival. We need to pick up the pieces and change our practices, before it’s too late.”

“With the polar bear population dwindling, it is essential that the United States not provide any incentives for killing this magnificent animal,” said Sen. Snowe. “The polar bear should be fully protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and it is incumbent upon the Congress to end this loophole. The world needs to recognize the consequence of human behavior on this species and ending the importation of trophy polar bears is a vital first step.” 

The U.S. does not allow the sport hunting of polar bears in their Alaskan habitat, but the animals are legally hunted in Canada, in what has become a commercial hunt. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, passed in 1972, generally prohibits the import of products from marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins, seals, and polar bears. But in 1994, at the urging of trophy hunting groups, Congress amended the law to allow American sport hunters to bring home polar bear trophies from Canada. Over the four-year period from 2002-2005, American hunters received 252 permits to import polar bear trophies. The Polar Bear Protection Act would restore the protections for these animals.

“The polar bear has become the iconic species for the devastating effects of global warming,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is unthinkable that these animals, already in such jeopardy from the effects of global warming, would be subjected to additional human-caused killing from the action of wealthy Americans who want to gain bragging rights within their fraternity of trophy hunters. This is an easy fix, and the Congress should act quickly to restore the ban on imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies – which had been in place between 1972 and 1994.”

“Until we take steps to address global warming, we need to do all we can to relieve further threats that are accelerating the bears’ downward spiral, including the trophy hunting of polar bears in Canada,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. 

“Climate change is now impacting polar bears through loss of habitat, rising sea levels, increased mortality, and reduced availability of food,” said A.J. Cady, Director, Animals in Crisis & Distress, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – “We have an opportunity and obligation to act immediately before we lose the polar bear forever. The simple and logical step is for Congress to close the loophole that was opened a decade ago - and not allow the future import of polar bear trophies into the U.S.”

  • Scientists estimate there are 21,500-25,000 polar bears in the Arctic – more than half are in Canada and most of these are in the territory of Nunavut. Throughout their range, polar bears currently face unprecedented threats from global climate change, environmental degradation, and hunting for subsistence and sport.
  • In 2005, the IUCN (World Conservation Union) uplisted the polar bear on its Red List from a species of “least concern” to “vulnerable” for the first time. The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has announced that polar bear populations could drop 30 percent in the coming 35–50 years and that polar bears may disappear from most of their range within 100 years.
  • Of the five “polar bear nations” (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Norway, Russia and the US), only Canada and (recently) Greenland allow polar bear sport hunting.
  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) currently allows the import of polar bear trophies from six of Canada’s 14 polar bear populations.
  • Historically, American residents have not been permitted to import polar bear trophies (nor any other marine mammal parts) under the MMPA. Following 1994 amendments to the Act, however, the importation of polar bear trophies including bear pelts and parts (excluding organs) into the U.S. from Canada was allowed.
  • Over the four years from 2002-2005, a total of 298 requests were made by US citizens to import sport hunted polar bear trophies from Canada. Of these, 252—a staggering 85 percent—were issued.
  • Sport hunters target the largest and most fit animals and are not always able to distinguish females from males in the field. The animals that are targeted are critical to ensuring the survival of polar bear populations under stress form climate change and habitat degradation.
  • Because the sport hunts are highly lucrative, Canadian wildlife managers may feel pressure to increase quotas beyond sustainable levels.
  • Historically, before the passage of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), sport hunting was identified as the primary or sole cause of polar bear population declines in places such as Alaska
  • Today sport hunting of polar bears in the U.S. is banned, and only Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt small numbers of bears for subsistence.  Once sport hunting was prohibited in the U.S., some populations began to recover. 

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