Today, in the long-running litigation over protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the federal district court rejected four lawsuits by sport-hunting groups challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s prohibition on importing the body parts of polar bears killed in Canadian “sport hunts.” In these lawsuits the plaintiffs acknowledge that the polar bear requires ESA protection because the species’ sea-ice habitat is being destroyed by global climate change. Nonetheless, the hunters argued that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), pursuant to which certain of these imports had been permitted prior to the species’ ESA listing, trumps these threats, and that imports must continue to be allowed.
Rejecting these arguments, the district court ruled that, by virtue of the ESA listing, the polar bear became a “depleted” species under the MMPA, and consequently neither the MMPA nor the ESA allow these imports to continue. The Court also ruled that the import ban applies to any polar bear body part in Canada when the species was listed, and thus that individuals who had killed polar bears in Canada prior to the listing, but had not yet completed the import process, are also subject to the ban. The decision is available here.