On July 10, Conservation Force filed six test permits to import polar bear trophies under the “enhancement” permit provisions of the MMPA. No such permit has ever been granted for import of a sport-hunted trophy, but it is the only possible kind of permit after the listing, according to the USF&WS.
In three instances the USF&WS has made it clear that polar bear trophy importation is now only possible with an “enhancement” permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This is an entirely different kind of “enhancement” than under the ESA. The ESA itself exempts trophies of “threatened” listed species protected on Appendix II of CITES, like the polar bear. It is the MMPA that presents the problem for listed bear.
In the Final Rule listing all polar bear, the Special Rule the USF&WS issued simultaneously and in a recent written solicitor’s opinion on polar bear trophy importation, it is suggested that enhancement permits may be granted. Congress created a MMPA “special exception” in 1988 for enhancement permits, but neither the USF&WS nor NOAA have adopted regulations expressly covering trophy imports of marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) must be consulted during the permitting process and has let it be known that it disapproves of import of lethally-taken polar bear trophies. Not surprisingly they also opposed the import of polar bear trophies under the 1994 Congressional Amendment which provided for the import of polar bear for the past decade. It remains to be seen how the USF&WS will treat these six test applications. We may end up in court on these as well.
We selected six polar bear taken in the Gulf of Boothia for the test import permits. The USF&WS was on the verge of approving imports from that region when the listing petition was filed. The bear population there has increased and may be too dense for its own good. The bear harvest there has been less than the quota and the hunting, and part of the conservation strategy. It is also an area the USGS Reports conclude is a geographic belt of the Arctic that is not expected to lose its Summer ice in the next 45 years.
These permits will be a major undertaking and will be published in the Federal Register and open to comment. We have been preparing them behind the scene for months. The trophies have already been taken and were considered “conservation hunting” by the IUCN at the time the hunts occurred.