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William Lacy Clay Jr., D-MO 1st
Mr. CLAY. Mr. Chairman, you are correct. This is an urgent issue, as we know, of polar bears, specific bears today that are in danger of being lost and which could be saved by importation into the United States. While it was the intent of Congress to protect these animals, the acts were never intended to be bureaucratic obstacles to common sense and to saving their lives.
Some brief background is in order. Mr. Chairman, section 101 of the Marine Mammals Protection Act established a moratorium on the importation of marine mammals. However, section 102 and 104 of the act allow for the issuance of permits for the importation of marine mammals under certain circumstances.
Now, the act generally prohibits permits from public display of marine mammals from a species of stock designated as depleted, which is defined as one that is listed as an endangered species or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
On May 15, 2008, the Secretary of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; and since then, no permits for the importation of polar bears for the health and welfare of the animals or for the purposes of public display have been issued by the Secretary. The act does require that conservation plans for taking animals include proposals to enhance their habitat which, in this case, is impossible.
One of the main reasons the polar bear was listed as threatened is the loss of their habitat. It is not possible to comply with this requirement, and we urge the Secretary to take this into consideration when making a final determination on these permits.
There is also a requirement that such takings be for scientific purposes. Mr. Chairman, I think you would agree that establishing successful captive breeding programs for a threatened species fits into the Congress's intent for scientific purposes. Declining habitat conditions for the polar bear and an increasing number of human-bear interaction have resulted in an increase in the number of polar bears brought into temporary or permanent captivity in Canada in recent years, including an increase
in the number of non-releasable animals and orphaned cubs.
Canadian institutions cannot house all of these bears and any animals not placed in suitable facilities could be used, euthanized or left to die in the wild.
The Government of Manitoba, Canada, has passed legislation allowing such bears to be exported from
Canada for purposes of captive maintenance and public display at accredited zoological institutions in the United States. These are institutions that have undergone a thorough and rigorous review and inspection process by zoological professionals to examine all aspects of an institution's operation.
Prior to issuing those permits, the Secretary of the Interior should determine the institution is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and meets specific public display criteria as determined by the Secretary.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to clarify that it is your understanding that under these acts, the Secretary of the Interior may issue permits for the importation into the U.S. of live polar bears for the purpose of public display at appropriate accredited zoological institutions. Upon a finding that such importation of such will benefit the health and welfare of the animal or is otherwise consistent with the conservation of the polar bears, in addition with the other areas, the Secretary's authority
is granted under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, section 102(b) and 104(c)(4)(A).
Again, I want to thank the chairman for this opportunity.
The Acting CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.
(On request of Mr. Dicks, and by unanimous consent, Mr. Clay was allowed to proceed for 3 additional minutes.)