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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shooting the Messenger

Talk is abundant when it comes to climate change. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Safari Club International have been downright despicable.

Polarbearbig The polar bear had been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act for just nine days, when the Safari Club filed a federal lawsuit aiming to reopen American borders to the commercial trade in sport-hunted polar bear trophies. Yep, the Safari Club is out once again to prove that nothing should get in the way of the fun of shooting trophies, not even if global warming threatens the very survival of their targets.

Yesterday, The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of environmental and conservation groups filed a motion to intervene in the suit, seeking to ensure that the imperiled polar bear won’t be sacrificed to a smug and selfish special interest—the big-game trophy hunting lobby.

You see, the tycoons of the Safari Club and its fellow traveler, the NRA, can look no further down the road than the range of a big-bore rifle. So what if the northern ice is melting and the bears have nowhere to go? In the minds of these trophy hunters, there is still room for a bearskin rug in front of the fireplace back home.

Perversely, nothing would please these trophy hunters more than to see the population of bears plunge—that is, just as soon as they get their trophy specimen to mount. The rarer the species, the more prized the trophy. The last man to shoot a live polar bear will stand tall in this crowd.

Oh, they will talk the phony language of “conservation,” as if paying big bucks to kill bears will fund the management necessary to help the survivors. But that’s the worst kind of political camouflage. The real motive of these trophy hunters is to kill as many rare animals as fast as they can because—well, because it’s a parlor game, and they keep score.

The image of far-off polar bears huddling on a melting slab of ice in the vast northern ocean has become the crisis emblem of 21st-century Earth. But shockingly, the Safari Club wants to keep the bullets flying and the blood flowing.

Maybe they hoped no one was looking. Well, we are. And so are millions of Americans who recognize that polar bears are the modern-day canaries in our global mineshaft.

Polar_bear_pe Maybe they thought it would be safe to hide behind the old wheeze that killing animals fosters conservation. No way. Polar bears need ice, room to roam, and every break we can give them. They don’t need hot lead and stale rhetoric from trophy hunters.   

The argument about global warming is settled. The deniers lost. Those who defend the killing of animals suffering its frontline consequences will lose too. In 2008, only a true extremist would dare to shoot a polar bear for the fun of it.

In the end, there will be no hiding. Polar bears are in trouble. They are in so much trouble that they are protected in Alaska. They are in so much trouble that they are protected in Russia. Even the Kremlin, of all things, turns out to be more progressive than the Safari Club when it comes to polar bears.

In Canada, though, polar bears can still be hunted for trophies—if you have enough money. In northern Canada, the greed of wealthy hunters matches up with the greed of Canadian guides and their apologists. So rich Americans can write a fat check to have themselves led into the wilderness where they can drop one of these suffering creatures.

Since 1994, these hunters have been allowed a Congressional exemption in U.S. conservation law to legally import their grisly trophies. But this year, thanks to the Bush Administration’s action to list the bears as threatened, the pipeline is no longer open for more bearskin rugs.

In the months ahead, the courts will revisit the subject—and hopefully will agree that the polar bears need the break, not the trophy hunters. If our great-grandchildren are to live and enjoy a world with these magnificent mammals in it, we must take a stand.

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