Wildlife Protection Groups Ask Federal Court to Uphold Polar Bear Trophy Hunting Ban

Monday, 16 June, 2008
With the future of the polar bear hanging in the balance, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www­.ifaw.org), and Defenders of Wildlife have moved to block a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to ban the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada. The groups filed a motion to intervene in the suit, which was filed by the extremist trophy-hunting group Safari Club International (SCI) and seeks to roll back the recent listing of the bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In a separate filing today, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace have also sought to participate in the lawsuit.
“Polar bears are headed toward the brink—everyone knows it. It is shameful that this group is not relenting in its quest to allow the trophy killing of these remarkable animals,” said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The HSUS. “Safari Club International has made a game of encouraging its members to shoot rare animals around the world, the rarer the better. But there is no reason why the federal government or the courts should condone this perverse practice.”
Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits trophy hunting of polar bears in Alaska and bars the killing or import of all other marine mammals, SCI and other trophy hunting groups convinced Congress to punch a loophole through the law in 1994, allowing American hunters to import polar bear trophies from Canada. Since then, more than 900 polar bear heads and hides have been imported into the United States by wealthy trophy hunters.  The recent decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the ESA closed down this commercial trade and ended the import of trophy-hunted polar bears into the United States.
“Recent studies have shown that trophy hunting is having profound impacts on polar bear populations already threatened by global warming.” said Jeff Flocken, IFAW Washington, DC office director. “In fact, trophy hunting may have already tipped the balance toward extinction for some of the polar bear populations from which Safari Club members like to hunt their trophies.”
A decline in polar bear numbers in recent years has been linked to the retreat of sea ice and its formation later in the year. Ice is also breaking up earlier and this trend is likely to continue. Bears have been forced ashore before they have time to build sufficient fat stores, resulting in thinner, stressed bears, fewer cubs and lower survival rates. Faced with habitat loss and population decline, polar bears should not have to contend with high-priced commercial trophy hunting.
“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. 
The HSUS, IFAW, and Defenders of Wildlife are represented in the case by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C.

  • Safari Club International is a club for big game trophy hunters interested in obtaining heads, hides and horns of rare species in order to gain entry in SCI’s macabre record book of trophy animals, which includes awards for members who have killed all of the world’s bear species.
  • Scientists estimate there are 21,500 to 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 face unprecedented threats from global climate change, environmental degradation and hunting.
  • Of the five “polar bear nations” (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S.), only Canada allows polar bear trophy hunting.
  • A recent study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that two of the six polar bear populations from which Americans imported polar bear trophies would be gone by the year 2050, with the remaining four disappearing by the end of this century.
  • Trophy hunters target the largest and most fit bears, which are the animals critical to ensuring the survival of polar bear populations.

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