SCI Condemns U.S. Fish and Wildlife Decision to List Polar Bear as Threatened Under ESA

Washington, D.C. – Safari Club International President Dennis Anderson today condemned the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list all populations of the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).   “Because of the uncertainty surrounding the extent of climate change and its impact on the polar bear, the listing was not warranted under ESA standards,” said Anderson.

Currently, polar bear population numbers are at or near all-time highs. Most populations in Canada are either stable or increasing. The FWS is relying on speculative computer modeling and limited professional judgment to conclude nonetheless that the polar bear will be threatened with extinction 45 years in the future.

The listing means that imports into the United States of polar bear trophies legally hunted in Canada will no longer be allowed as of the effective date of the listing, which will be the date that the rule is published in the Federal Register. Before the listing, the law permitted imports from six populations of polar bears in Canada. The FWS previously had determined that the sport hunting programs for each of these six populations is “based on scientifically sound quotas ensuring the maintenance of the affected population stock at a sustainable level.”  The new listing rule recognizes the conservation benefits of sport hunting and importation, but claims the Marine Mammal Protection Act bars imports once a species is listed under the ESA.

As SCI demonstrated in comments filed with the FWS, the hunting of these populations supports conservation and sound management in a number of ways, including the payment of $1,000 for each import permit to support research in Alaska and Russia. In addition, the cash supplied to the local native communities by U.S. hunters encourages sound management and conservation by Canadian authorities. With the listing, all these benefits are lost. In addition, the listing will have no effect on polar bear mortality through hunting, as the native communities will simply harvest for subsistence purposes those bears not harvested by U.S. hunters for import. SCI hopes to work with the FWS to reinstate the ability to import trophies under the ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The listing of populations in the Canadian archipelago, including several from which imports are currently allowed, is particularly unjustified. Even the government’s own speculative computer modeling does not predict a threat of extinction to these populations in the next 45 years.

To allow trophy importation in the future, the FWS will need to make a formal finding that sport hunting enhances the survival of the species. In addition to exploring options for challenging the listing, SCI hopes to work with the FWS to enable the agency to make this finding and to thereby quickly reinstate the ability to import trophies under the ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The ESA is ill-suited to address climate change or other perceived threats to the polar bear. The biggest loss brought about by this listing will be to polar bear conservation and management, because the funding provided by U.S. hunters will dry up,” Anderson concluded.