Bear Protection Act on the Move

Hearings were held in the Senate Committee on Environment and PublicWorks, chaired by Senator John Chafee (R, RI), July 7, 1998, on eight billswhich would be administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The bills,focused on endangerment of species used in Traditional Asian Medicine,included the Bear Protection Act and the Rhino and Tiger Product LabelingAct. The Bear Protection Act would solve the differences in state legislationrelating to bears. Some states, such as Idaho, permit sale of bear gallswhich bring fantastic prices on the traditional medicine market.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KY), the bill's chief sponsor, submittedtestimony stating: "The poaching of bears is a national problem thatis destined to become worse. Currently, there are enforcement and jurisdictionalloopholes, which exist as a result of a patchwork of state laws, that allowthis illegal trade to flourish. I believe we have a real opportunity, ifwe act now, to protect the bear populations in this country from individualsseeking to profit from the slaughter and sale of the organs of these magnificentanimals.... The outright ban on the trade, sale, or barter of bear viscera,including items that claim to contain bear parts, will close the existingloopholes and will allow state and federal wildlife officials to focustheir limited resources on much needed conservation efforts." SenatorMcConnell is joined in cosponsoring the Bear Protection Act with a bipartisangroup of 54 members of the Senate, including over two thirds of the Committeeon Environment and Public Works.

A record number of groups, comprised of both animal protective and huntingorganizations, joined together in support of the Bear Protection Act. Testimonysubmitted on behalf of these groups reported that the Earthcare Societyand Association of Chinese Medicine and Philosophy, two prominent HongKong organizations, recognize 54 herbal substitutes for bear bile in traditionalmedicine remedies.

With such overwhelmingsupport for enactment of the Bear Protection Act, opponents opted for thetime-honored, low-profile method of bill-killing: delay by demanding further"study" and "funding." The World Wildlife Fund (WWF),the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (AZA), and the InternationalAssociation of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) all called for more studyand funding, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service supported them. Thisorganized foot-dragging contradicts WWF's own previous messages to itsmembers. In 1995 WWF stated: "American black bear populations aretargets of illegal traders in bear parts. The booming medicinal marketfor these parts, where a single gall bladder can fetch up to $11,000 insome Far Eastern Markets, has already sent Asian bear populations intodecline and is causing traders to turn increasingly to American black bears.A complex patchwork of state laws in the United States makes it almostimpossible to regulate the trade." And "Information providedby federal, state, provincial and territorial wildlife agencies in theUnited States and Canada indicates that there also exists a well-developedmarket for parts from the American black bear."

Towards the end of the hearing, Senator Chafee, renowned for his mildmanner in asking searching questions, inquired of Gary J. Taylor, legislativedirector of IAFWA who had strongly opposed passage of the Bear ProtectionAct, "What's the harm in doing it?" Mr. Taylor, caught off guard,was reduced to babbling about America's "unique relation of stateand federal governments," which he characterized as "the envyof the rest of the world." He said that IAFWA would support the bill"if there was any substantiation at all" of need for it. TheIAFWA (usually referred to as "the International" because wildlifemanagers in Canada and Mexico are also included in its powerful embrace)allegedly speaks for and represents the state wildlife agencies, but stateagency directors and wildlife law enforcement personnel have made abundantlyclear the great need for this valuable bill. A sampling of their statementsfollows.*

  • Alaska: "Anything would help, any federal legislation inany form would help us ... If they could get this bill [BPA] through andactually make it a federal law, it would be great." — Sergeant JoeCampbell, former Commander, Statewide Investigations, now Post Supervisor,Department of Public Safety, Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection
  • California: "We believe that California bear are takento other states and sold....this is a loophole which endangers bear populations.California would be supportive of a uniform prohibition on the sale ofgallbladders." — Boyd Gibbons, Director, California Department ofFish and Game
  • "Anytime you have any regulation that assists in the control ofthe illegal sale of bear parts, that's going to help. If all states werealigned, including Canada and their provinces, along with all of our states,in not allowing [trade in bear galls] it would be a tremendous benefitto enforcement. The problem comes where it is legal to [trade]." —Lieutenant Watkins, head of California's Department of Fish and Game SpecialOperations Unit

  • Colorado: "The Division would be very supportive of anyefforts at better protecting bears and dealing with the illegal trade,to include an interstate prohibition on the sale of bear galls." —Fran Marcoux, Chief of Wildlife Law Enforcement, Division of Wildlife
  • Georgia: "I would love to see some kind of interstate prohibitionon the sale of bear gall and bear parts." — Sergeant Jim Wallen, GeorgiaWildlife Resources Division, Investigative Unit
  • Idaho: "Bears are being poached just for their gallbladders....We even have intelligence of people poaching bears in other states andlaundering them in Idaho." — Paul Weyland, Special Agent, US Fishand Wildlife Service, Boise
  • Louisiana: "Any extra legislation or laws put on the booksgives us more teeth to do our job... [an interstate ban] would help usa lot." — Sergeant Mayne, Special Investigations Division, LouisianaDepartment of Wildlife and Fisheries
  • North Carolina: "[An interstate ban] would be great becausewe constantly run into people that say that they got them (galls) in Michigan,Maine, everywhere in the world, and bring them here.. it would benefitenforcement. We work closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service but still,the Lacey Act is cumbersome at best.... I would like to see an interstatelaw." — Roger Lequire, Enforcement Division, Carolina Wildlife ResourcesCommission
  • Pennsylvania: "We do not subscribe to the commercializationof wildlife because it eventually leads to an unlawful activity. The drainon wildlife resources because of all the various markets and demands foreither wildlife or parts is tremendous. We would support a law banningthe commercialization of black bear parts and any other law that addressesunlawful traffic in wildlife." — J. R. Fagan, Director, Bureau ofLaw Enforcement (for the Director), Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Utah: "When you have got such disparity in laws in thestates, it's so hard to enforce when you are working on trade in bear parts....A federal prohibition on bear gall commerce is going to help us immensely."— William Woody, Enforcement Investigator, Utah Department of Natural Resources,Division of Wildlife Resources.
  • Washington: "It has been disturbing to note the increasedefforts of those individuals who deal in bear and bear parts. I supportthe consistency of laws, both between states and nationally, to furtherthe protection of all our fragile wildlife resources. Consistency betweenstates and federal agencies, by the enactment of laws prohibiting the saleand export of bear and other wildlife parts, would help in closing thedoors and loopholes that currently exist." — Dayna Matthews, AssistantDirector, Enforcement Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

* Source of Statements: The American Bear Parts Trade:A State-by State Analysis, by Keith Highley for The Humane Societyof the United States and Letters to Clifford J. Wood, Environmental InvestigationAgency, 1995.

AWI Quarterly Spring 1998, Volume 47 Number 2, p. 10-11.

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