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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Senate Puts Polar Bears on Thin Ice

Congress returns to Washington today after the election, and gets back to the business of the country. You’d think that first up on the Senate’s agenda today would be jobs, the economy, dealing with the fiscal cliff, or even climate change. But instead, the very first item on the Senate’s lame-duck calendar is something really important to the American people: importing 41 polar bear heads and hides from Canada so they can adorn the trophy rooms of wealthy big-game hunters.

Polar bearIt’s S. 3525, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and it’s the first order of business in the Senate today. It’s the kind of special interest legislation that makes Americans frustrated with Congress, and it’s designed to benefit a small number of wealthy trophy hunters who travel the globe bagging the most imperiled creatures for their collections. Such as the Safari Club members who wish to acquire bragging rights for the “North American 29” award in the record book, by killing a minimum of 29 species and subspecies of animals, including the polar bear, in North American habitat.

Call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose S. 3525.

The Humane Society of the United States issued a new report today, “On Thin Ice: The Dangerous Impact of Allowing Polar Bear Trophy Imports,” highlighting the threats to polar bear conservation and future protected species. The report notes that there are fewer than 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining in the wild, and the only population that appears to be increasing in size no longer faces pressure from trophy hunting.

The polar bear is a threatened species that faces extraordinary pressures, including melting ice, overharvesting, and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the polar bear as “Vulnerable” based on a projected population reduction of more than 30 percent within three generations (45 years) due to a decrease in distribution and habitat quality. Import of polar bear trophies was banned in May 2008, when the Bush Administration listed the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The drive for polar bear trophies, and for Safari Club awards, only intensifies these threats by killing bears who already struggle to survive in a changing climate. In 2007, the last full year when polar bear trophy imports were allowed, 112 polar bear trophies were imported to the United States—more than double the number from the previous year. In 2011, the Nunavut territory of Canada increased the hunting quota for one of its polar bear populations (western Hudson Bay) by more than 250 percent—from 8 bears to 21—despite concerns expressed by polar bear researchers that the increase in take could be harmful to the population. Nunavut has plans to increase that quota even further for the 2013 season, to 24 bears.

Now comes S. 3525 and the latest in a series of congressional import allowances for polar bear trophies. While some argue this is just a small number of trophies and the bears are already dead, it encourages hunters to continue killing protected species in other countries, store the trophies in warehouses, and simply wait for their allies in Congress to get them a waiver on the imports. Congress has several times granted these import allowances—a de facto repeal of the import ban—sending a message to trophy hunters that they can continue killing imperiled species and eventually they will get approval to bring home their trophies. The cumulative impact encourages more reckless killing of imperiled animals around the globe.

Polar bear populations are declining, and we must do everything we can to slow the mortality of these majestic creatures. Congress should not use the lame-duck session to pass a special-interest bill that puts threatened polar bears and other protected species in further jeopardy. Call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose S. 3525.

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