Safari Club International achieved an early victory in litigation challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ban on the import of polar bears from Canada. On June 22, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rebuffed the FWS’s attempt to have SCI’s lawsuit dismissed without full briefing on the merits.
When the FWS listed the polar bear as threatened in May 2008, it also determined that imports of polar bear legally hunted from approved populations in Canada would no longer be allowed, as they had been for the previous 12 years. SCI sued to reverse this determination. The FWS argued that it had not made a final decision, the ban did not harm SCI, and the case should be dismissed. The Court rejected the government’s arguments in their totality. The Court found that the import ban determination was a challengeable final action and that SCI had alleged sufficiently that the import ban injured SCI and its members.
Since the import ban went into effect, hunting of polar bears by U.S. hunters has plummeted and trophies of bears hunted before the ban went into effect sit in cold storage in Canada. The conservation benefits provided by U.S. hunters and the funds they inject into the local communities have dried up. Yet polar bear mortality remains the same under the quota to the native communities, as bears not harvested for sport hunts are harvested for subsistence.
The case now proceeds to full briefing on the merits of all of SCI claims. SCI is also pursuing a separate challenge to the listing of the polar bear itself.