Case Overview, Bear Protection Act

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over the Bear Protection Act. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

           An enduring divide in the values of those living in many modern societies is between those who abhor hunting, believing killing animals for sport is barbaric, and those who regard hunting as not only a legitimate sport but part of our cultural heritage and a tie to an earlier time when hunting was necessary to feed and clothe a family. In the United States that value divide is manifested in the political arena. On one side are animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Society for Animal Protection. On the other side are organizations like the Wildlife Management Institute, the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sportsmen's Fund, Ducks Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League, and the Safari Club International. One side would like to ban hunting; the other wants to facilitate hunting.
          Although banning hunting across the board is not a realistic political goal, the animal rights organizations have pushed legislation designed to limit or ban the hunting of particular animals as well as regulate what kinds of hunting of an animal can be done so as to minimize the suffering of those who fall victim to a hunter. In the United States black bears are not endangered, but the decline of the black bear population in Asia has created a problem in this country. In some Asian cultures there are traditional medicines that use black bear parts, especially the gallbladder and its bile. With the decline of the Asian supply of black bears has come a demand for American bear parts.
          The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (known as the CITES treaty) bans the trade of black bear viscera (internal organs) but many in the animal rights movement believe that there is poaching of black bears so body parts can be sold on the black market. The issue is complicated by the fact that some states allow the trade of bear body parts within this country while others don't. The animal rights organizations support passage of the Bear Protection Act so that all states would be required to protect their bear populations through a ban on interstate trade.
           The hunting organizations are ardently opposed to the Bear Protection Act. Said a lobbyist for one of these groups, "It's an unnecessary bill. It's a states' rights issue because states have the authority to regulate wildlife management." He added, "This is a federal intrusion." A lobbyist on the other side of the issue rejected this argument: "We hear the states rights argument all the time. But our bill is limited to the interstate trade of bear viscera. This in no way outlaws legal big game hunting."
           In an effort to move the legislation forward, proponents succeeded in getting it attached as a rider to the Senate's farm bill making its way through the 107th Congress. The House's version of the farm bill did not include a version of the Bear Protection Act and it was dropped in conference. Proponents retreated and did not push for reintroduction of the bill in the 108th Congress. Said one lobbyist sympathetic to the cause, we "wouldn't press the issue unless there was a change in leadership or in the atmosphere, like if the New York Times ran a story on black bears dying out for the gallbladders."