Polar Bear Court Battles Rage On

On August 7, 2012, Safari Club International (SCI), together with the State of Alaska, Conservation Force, and the California Cattlemen’s Association, filed their final reply brief in the appeal challenging the listing of the polar bear as threatened under the ESA.  On October 19, 2012, SCI will participate in oral arguments before the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals. This Court will decide whether U.S. hunters will again be able to support sustainable use conservation of the polar bear through hunting and importation of the species.

The battle for sustainable use of polar bears, begun in the 1980s by SCI, resulted in a major victory in 1994.  SCI and others convinced Congress of the considerable conservation benefits realized through U.S. sportsmen and women hunting for game species, including the polar bear, in foreign countries. Congress passed a law allowing U.S. hunters to import polar bears from certain approved Canadian populations. The revenues generated in local native communities has fueled continued conservation efforts by making the bear valuable to the locals, discouraging poaching, and encouraging support for scientifically set quotas.  The polar bear today enjoys historically high worldwide population numbers and occupies its entire historic range. A success by any measure!

However, in 2008, against the opposition of the hunting community and Canada’s government and native communities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the polar bear as threatened under the ESA.  Although the FWS recognized the polar bear’s historically high population numbers and range, they listed it based on speculations about sea ice conditions and population trends in the next 45 years.

The anti-hunting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that petitioned to list the polar bear (and defended the listing in court) did not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They sought to end sustainable-use hunting.  They did not care about for the devastating impact that an end to hunting by U.S. hunters would have on native Canadian communities.  They sought to use the polar bear as the poster child for their global warming agenda. These NGOs have done little to fund real world conservation, including for the polar bear.  To them, the ESA is a tool to advance their anti-hunting and climate agenda and to raise money.

Organizations like SCI fight against anti-hunting NGOs. SCI fights for sustainable use of wildlife and the conservation benefits that hunting brings.  Regardless of the final result of this litigation, SCI’s participation in this case has been extremely valuable.

Current Status of Case:

After three years of litigation, in June 2011 the U.S. District Court ruled that the listing was legal.  SCI and others appealed the ruling.  The Court of Appeals ordered SCI and the other challengers to jointly file two appeal documents, an opening brief and a reply brief. To do so, SCI and the other parties split up the responsibility for writing the different arguments and other sections of the briefs.  The collaboration added new challenges as not all the parties were able to support all the arguments.  Four sets of attorneys had to draft, edit, and finalize a single document.  As the Court limits the number of words in the brief, the parties had to make tough decisions about what stayed and what got cut.  All the parties contributed to the final product – two briefs totaling over 23,000 words.

SCI tackled the FWS’s failure to apply the correct legal standards for listing a species and the FWS’s erroneous conclusion that the polar bear is threatened throughout its entire range.  Conservation Force wrote the argument on the FWS’s failure to consider the impact of the listing on Canada’s very successful conservation program.  Alaska and California Cattlemen took on very complex arguments challenging the science and modeling behind the listing.  All and all, the parties worked hard to present persuasive arguments to the Court of Appeals.

This Court is tasked with deciding whether the FWS erred in listing the polar bear.  If the Court rules in our favor and against the FWS, the Court should vacate the listing rule.  Invalidating the listing rule would eliminate the current ban on imports of polar bears from Canada and reinstate the conservation benefits that arise from those imports. SCI remains hopeful that the Court of Appeals will agree with sportsmen and women that this listing was not legal.

In a completely separate case, SCI is challenging (alone this time) the FWS’s legal determination that the listing of the polar bear created a ban on imports of polar bears from Canada.  Like the listing case, SCI litigated this case for years in the District Court.  SCI appealed the unfavorable ruling from the District Court.  SCI will be filing its opening brief in this appeal very shortly.

SCI makes every effort to support hunting around the world but it takes time and financial resources. If you would like to make a donation to the Hunter Defense Fund, please do so TODAY: https://member.scifirstforhunters.org/static/donate/index.cfm?Action=Donate&pc=M20025FR.

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