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September 24, 2012

Reckless Bill in Congress Would Harm Polar Bears and the Environment

Make no mistake, there’s a lot of support for animal issues in the U.S. Congress. The anti-animal fighting bill, H.R. 2492, making it a federal crime to be a spectator at animal fights has 226 cosponsors (a majority of the House), and the Senate version of that bill was approved as an amendment by an 88 to 11 vote. A bill to regulate large-scale commercial dog breeders (puppy mills) who sell via the Internet has 216 cosponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate, and President Obama plans to take care of a core provision of that reform through the rule-making process. 

The bill to phase out the use of chimps in invasive experiments and retire all government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary has 200 House and Senate cosponsors, and Dr. Francis Collins, the director of NIH, announced last week that 110 chimps at the New Iberia Research Center (which The HSUS investigated in 2009) would be “permanently ineligible” for research—a big step forward in our campaign to see chimpanzees retired to sanctuary. There are many other bills with broad support.

Polar bear with cub
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But the Congress sometimes loses it head when it comes to dealing with hunting issues, and for the most recent evidence of this, you need look no further than the Senate’s final action after midnight on Saturday morning, before leaving town to campaign, regarding S. 3525, the so-called Sportsmen’s Act.

It’s a grab bag of favored policy wishes for the hunting lobby, including provisions to allow for imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada and to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from ever limiting the use of toxic lead shot, even if available science warrants such action.

The Democratic leadership, in election mode, wanted to do a favor for Montana Sen. John Tester, who is the author of S. 3525. He was also the architect of the effort to de-list wolves in order to open up sport hunting and trapping seasons on these animals in the Northern Rockies. That action is part of the explanation for a change in policy that has left hundreds of wolves dead, and the populations in the Northern Rockies battered and diminished.

With S. 3525, Tester pleaded the case for a handful of millionaire American trophy hunters who trekked to Canada and shot and killed polar bears for their heads and hides. However, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was originally written to ban imports of polar bears and other marine mammals, and now the polar bears are listed by the Interior Department as a threatened species, and the federal agency has banned imports of the parts. That’s why Sen. Tester needs Congress to override the law and the executive agency.

In a procedural vote that clears the way for final passage of Tester’s bill in November or December, the Senate voted 84 to 7 in favor of the bill. A handful of conservatives voted against it because of cost, and a few Democrats—Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Robert Menendez, and Jack Reed—opposed it because they think it’s wrong to promote the trophy killing of polar bears. But the majority of the Senate went along, viewing this as a “pro-sportsmen” vote.

This isn’t the first time the Congress has engaged in this kind of capitulation to the trophy hunting lobby. Since 1994, it has allowed for imports of polar bear trophies in order to appease the Safari Club International and the NRA, and certain of their wealthy members who travel to northern Canada to kill bears in their quest to win hunting achievement awards like “Bears of the World.” 

We’ve heard a lot of talk about the “one percent” and the “99 percent” this year when it comes to the economy and politics. But here’s a case of the 0.001 percent, and how the Congress is appeasing a handful of people who spend lots of money just for the chance to kill and possess the world’s largest land predator—and one of the most threatened—for purely selfish purposes.

But it’s not just the Senate. Earlier this year, the House Natural Resources Committee included the polar bear provision in its own sportsmen’s package, and the House rejected—by a vote of 155 to 262—an amendment offered by Rep. Gary Peters to strike the polar bear provision.

It’s one thing to support sportsmen. It’s another thing to cave in to the most extreme demands of the most extreme elements of the hunting lobby. That’s what Congress did on Saturday morning. It was not, needless to say, that assembly’s finest hour.

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