With more and more scientists finding an accelerated shrinking of Arctic habitat, and on-going attempts by single-minded US congressmen determined to circumvent existing laws protecting polar bears, I'm happy to report that polar bears finally received some good news: thanks to a farsighted decision by a US federal judge, polar bears will continue to have protections from unnecessary killing by trophy-hungry American hunters.
On Monday, October 17, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia upheld the decision to ban polar bear trophy imports into the US. This ban first came into effect when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in May of 2008. Infuriated hunters from Safari Club International and other trophy hunting groups filed suit against the FWS claiming that the ban violated existing laws and that trophy-hunting actually helps this imperiled species. Luckily, Judge Sullivan did not buy the twisted argument that hunting a species threatened with extinction is good for it, and instead found that import of polar bear trophies violates US law.
This is a major conservation victory for a species already faced with mounting threats including melting sea ice, habitat degradation and pollution. Needless exploitation by Americans for mounted trophies to hang on walls is a threat that polar bears do not need on top of these other complex and difficult-to-address pressures.
I applaud Judge Sullivan for his ruling and hope this outcome will serve as a wake-up call to some Congressional leaders and trophy hunters who still seek to create loopholes in US laws that protect polar bears and other imperiled species. Now, instead of expending valuable resources defending polar bears against unnecessary and expensive lawsuits filed by trophy hunting special interest groups, we can all return our focus to finding solutions to the pressing problems faced by endangered wildlife. Polar bears need solutions to mounting threats in order to survive this century -- not more needless killing.
Jeff Flocken is the D.C. Office Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
A version of this post first appeared on IFAW's Animal Wire.