Polar Bear Protection Laws & Legislation. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
Due to concern over a shrinking population of marine mammal species, Congress enacted the MMPA(Marine Mammal Protection Act) on 21OCT1972. The measure took power away from the states and brought it up to the federal level. The MMPA was handed to the Department of Interior in which it is enforced mainly through NOAA and the USFWS. In addition to the polar bear, other marine mammals under this umbrella were the manatee, sea otter, pacific walrus, and dugong. The MMPA prohibited the hunting, harassment, capturing, and killing of marine mammals. A moratorium is also in place on the import/export of marine mammal parts and products.
The portion of the MMPA that encompasses the polar bear is section 502(a). There are six portions to this section which strongly prohibit any interference at all with Polar Bears. The only group of people in the United States that are exempt are Alaskan Natives which rely on the polar bear for subsistence purposes.
An agreement for polar bear conservation was signed by Denmark, Canada, Norway, US, and Russia in 1976 which was an international agreement to take stronger measures in limiting the number of polar bears taken. The agreement was originally for a five year period and was unanimously extended indefinitely in 1981. The United States and Russia had previously outlawed the take of Polar Bears with the exception of natives. The agreement was mainly targeted at Canada who still permits the seasonal hunt for polar bears.
The Polar Bear hunting season in Canada typically extends from Feb. 15 to April 30. Many remote communities including natives are dependent on American dollars which can yield between $30,000 to $40,000 per bear. Inuits especially have been known to train Americans to become hunting guides for the polar bear season. The MMPA prohibited the import of any portion of a polar but that was all about to change. In 1994 there was a revision to the MMPA which allowed Americans to import their trophy polar bear.
On 30APR1994, there were amendments to the MMPA that were enacted. One extremely significant one being the allowance of the import of Canadien trophies into the United States from years 2002-2005. The USFWS(United States Fish and Wildlife Service) received 298 requests in which 251 of those requests were granted.
One incident that brought polar bears into the limelight was the incident with the Suarez Brothers Circus based in Guadalajara, Mexico. There were strong reports that the Suarez Brothers Circus had six polar bears in custody that were illegally attained with fraudulent documents. After repeated allegations from musician Sarah McLachlan along side with animal rights groups such as PETA, action was taken. In March of 2002, the USFWS intercepted the circus in Puerto Rico and took custody of all six polar bears in which they were brought back stateside.
With less than one week following the Suarez incident, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and thirty-eight of his colleagues in the House of Representatives brought forth the Polar Bear Protection Act of 2002. This policy strictly prohibited anyone from using polar bears for applications such as a circus or traveling sideshow.
The Endangered Species Act originally went into action on 28DEC1973 under the Nixon administration. It wasn’t until 15MAY2008 when the polar bear was finally added to the list under the status “threatened”. The Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne listed the polar bear as threatened due to the constant loss of sea ice.
One serious area of controversy is the 4(d) loophole that lies in the ESA which limits the protection that polar bears receive in areas of oil production. Critics argue that these areas are the most treacherous for polar bears due to increased boat traffic and extra equipment in or near the maritime environment.
The state of Alaska tends to be the playing field where most of the conflict regarding polar bears occur. Adding the polar bear to the ESA was seen as another mechanism for government interference. Most claim that the polar bear population has increased in the last twenty years due to measures already in affect. However, with the loss of sea ice that is in affect and the prospect of oil production and drilling, only time will tell.
Marine Mammal Protection Act
Polar Bear Hunting
Polar Bear Protection Act of 2002
Endangered Species Act