The United States’ Senate stalled a vote this week on a bill known as the Sportsmens’ Act of 2012 which would have increased land access and permitted specific individual hunters who lawfully harvested 41 polar bears in Canada from importing their trophies to the United States – each of which were taken prior to receiving protection as threatened species status. The bill would have also excluded ammunition and fishing tackle from federal environmental regulations that regulate the use of lead, permit archery hunters to cross federal lands where hunting isn’t allowed to gain access to areas where they may lawful hunt, encourage assistance from federal agencies to assist states in maintaining shooting ranges, and work to increase fish populations and protect animal habitat.
Republicans in the Senate simply stated that the bill sponsored by Democratic Senator, Jon Tester of Montana spends too much money. The objection voiced by the Republican Party came from the Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, on the basis that the bill spends too much money on conservation programs. Democrats countered the bill would actually raise money for those provisions. The question remains whether the bill will see any action prior to the Congressional Holiday break.
Conservation groups- including the Humane Society of the US – also weighed in, primarily on the issue of lead use. At least one Democratic Senator voted against the bill citing threats to public health and setting back existing conservation efforts. At the present time, ammunition and fishing tackle that contain lead are unregulated by the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies. However, regulation on such use is left to the individual states. Pennsylvania, for instance, restricts the use of lead shot while hunting waterfowl.
The polar bear debate is simply fascinating to this author. Specifically, the bill would allow the hunters who lawfully killed polar bears in Canada immediately before the institution of the 2008 ban on polar bear trophy imports to finally bring their trophies across the border into the US. The Humane Society opposed this portion of the bill stating that it could set a “bad precedent” and encourage hunters to attempt to circumvent other laws involving threatened or endangered species. The Humane Society’s website stated that the bill would “allow 41 wealthy trophy hunters to import their sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada even though polar bears are listed as a threatened species”. While polar bears are indeed listed as threatened species, such status was not granted until after the hunters harvested these bears. Not one single hunter violated a federal law, yet they have been prohibited from enjoying these trophies for several years.
While it remains to be seen whether this bill will actually pass in its present state, I would certainly be surprised to see any definitive action before next year.