June 27, 2007
|Polar bears face increasing|
threats—not just from global
climate change, but from
In recent years, polar bears have become the most visible victims of the global warming crisis. Images of hungry bears stranded on melting patches of sea ice serve as a powerful reminder of a world climate in flux—and the suffering that accompanies it.
Yet even as the polar bear’s habitat crashes, wealthy American sport hunters continue to kill these majestic marine mammals for trophies and bragging rights.
Scientists estimate there are 20,000—25,000 polar bears in the Arctic—more than half are in Canada and most of these are in Nunavut. Of the five nations with polar bear populations—Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia,
and the United States—only Canada and Greenland allow polar bear sport hunting. Canada issues subsistence permits to natives to allow them to kill polar bears for traditional uses, but natives can legally sell their subsistence permits to foreign trophy hunters for as much as $30,000.
The MMPA Loophole
Before passage of the U.S. Marine
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)
of 1972, sport hunting was the
primary cause of polar bear
population declines in places such
as Alaska. In 1994, however,
Congress caved to pressure from
the trophy hunting lobby and
amended the MMPA to allow the
importation of polar bear trophy
kills from six of Canada’s 14 polar
bear populations. The new law
had a measurable effect. From
2002-2005, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS) received
298 requests from U.S. citizens
to import sport-hunted polar bear
trophies from Canada. Of these, at
least 251—a staggering 84 percent
Sport hunters target the largest and most fit animals and aren't always able to distinguish females from males in the field. Because of their long lives and slow reproduction, polar bears rely on high adult survival rates to maintain their numbers. The animals who are targeted may be critical to ensuring the survival of populations under stress from climate change and habitat degradation.
The Polar Bear Protection Act of 2007 (S. 1406/H.R. 2327)—introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and )—would close the 1994 loophole (see sidebar) in the MMPA and prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from issuing permits for the importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment, sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), to the Interior Appropriations bill on June 21 to prohibit the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies into the United States. Unfortunately, a similar amendment failed in the House by a vote of 188-244. However, if the Senate amendment remains in the final appropriations bill, funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits for the importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies would be cut for one fiscal year. This is an important step forward, but a permanent ban on trophy imports is still needed.
Faced with unprecedented threats from global climate change, environmental degradation, and trophy hunting, the last thing polar bears need is to be chased down and killed in their Arctic environment by individuals seeking a bearskin rug. The United States should take a leadership role in protecting polar bears and stop allowing its citizens to import trophy kills of these animals.
Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 519 C Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.