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Rep. Young Leads Hearing on Importation of Polar Bear Trophies


Washington, d.c. - Alaskan Congressman Don Young led a hearing in the U.S. Committee on Natural Resources Sept. 22 on his bill H.R. 1054, which would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada before the date the polar bear was determined to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Rep. Young's opening statement as prepared:

"Chairwoman Bordallo, thank you for scheduling a hearing today on my bill, H.R. 1054, which would allow the roughly 41 hunters, with legally taken polar bear trophies in Canada, to import their trophies into the U.S. after paying the required permit fee. 

"The intent of the bill is very specific, to allow only those 41 hunters with a legally taken polar bear trophy, taken prior to the May 15, 2008, listing, to bring those trophies into the U.S.

"Congress amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1994 to allow U.S. hunters to import polar bear trophies from Canada.  The Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to review the status of polar bear populations in Canada and, after conducting the review, to create a list of approved stable and healthy polar bear populations.  Following this process, U.S. hunters would only be allowed to import trophies from these approved populations.

"Thirteen of the nineteen polar bear populations are under the jurisdiction of Canada.  Canada has one of the best management programs, using state-of-the-art scientific practices to manage its populations.  Out of these thirteen populations, only six are considered to be approved populations by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The worldwide population of polar bears is currently estimated at 23,000 bears.  I have a press release from the 1970's where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is heralding the stability of the polar bear population, with an estimate of 20,000 bears worldwide.  Here we are thirty-two years later and the population is still above 20,000 animals.  Given the dire predictions for the polar bear over the next 100 years, one might be surprised that the polar bear has weathered other warming trends, including the most recent over the last 50 years.  Instead of seeing a huge decline in the population, as is predicted for the population over the next 100 years, the polar bear population has stayed stable since the 1970s.

"I do not want to digress into reasons why the Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear was wrong, it is not the focus of this hearing; however, I do want to stress that the prohibition on bringing these trophies into the U.S. is not providing any conservation value to the Canadian polar bear populations.  In fact, if we allow these trophies to be imported, we can raise much needed funds for conservation activities for the shared U.S.-Russia polar bear population.

"There are detractors today, as there were in 1994, who are opposed to amending the MMPA to allow for the importation of polar bear trophies from Canada and refer to the language as a 'loophole.'

"In the 1970s, many marine mammal populations faced numerous threats.  The MMPA was very effective in restoring many marine mammal populations to healthy or historic levels.  Unfortunately, the Act does not discriminate between healthy marine mammal populations and those still in need of rebuilding.  Robust populations of marine mammals are treated like they are on the verge of extinction.

"While the 1994 amendments did not address this issue, the Democrat-controlled Congress, specifically those enlightened Members on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, had the foresight to understand that the sustainable use of resources and conservation activities were not mutually exclusive.  The Committee developed strict requirements to ensure the protection of the polar bear populations in Canada, while allowing for the importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies.          

"The idea of incentives to give value to natural resources was very new at the time.  A similar program was developed for African communities to protect big game resources in Africa using the same incentive structure.  These programs have proven their worth and have been very successful.

"There will always be a sector of the population that believes we should not kill animals; however, we need to keep in mind that there are still areas of the world that rely on the natural resources around them and still subsist on these resources.  Some may like to believe that if U.S. hunters are prohibited from importing their trophies into the U.S., polar bear hunting will end.  That is far from the truth.

In addition, it is important to remember that these polar bear sport hunts in Canada support small, remote Native villages in Canada.  Hunters pay up to $50,000 for the hunt itself and will leave with only the hide of the bear.  The Native village benefits again from the hunt by retaining all of the meat from the taken bear.

"Most of the Canadian polar bear populations are healthy and well managed.  Sport hunting activities provide important incentives and support remote Native villages and important conservation programs in Canada, the U.S. and Russia. 

"Finally, let me again be clear there is no conservation value in a dead bear that is held in cold storage in Canada for over a year.  Those who legally hunted and harvested these polar bears fully complied with all U.S. and Canadian laws in place at the time.  In most instances, these hunts were years in the planning and savings were set-aside to book this 'once in a lifetime experience.'

"You will hear today from one of our witnesses, Major Roger Oerter of Vail, Arizona.  Major Oerter is a veteran of not one but ten military deployments during his Air Force career.  During his distinguished service, the Major time and again risked his life for the security of this nation.  He is now asking the Subcommittee for the right to import his legally obtained polar bear trophy into the U.S.  It seems to me this is the least we can do for this hero warrior who has sacrificed so much for his country.

"Madam Chairwoman, I have a number of letters from some of the hunters affected by the May 15th listing, who now have  polar bear trophies in Canada and are requesting action on H.R. 1054 to allow them to import their property.  I ask unanimous consent to submit these letters for the hearing record.

"Thank you Madam Chairwoman."
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