July 7, 1998

Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased to join my colleague Senator McConnell and 52 other cosponsoring Senators in supporting the Bear Protection Act. I fully support this Act and believe that it is key to ensuring the long-term viability of the world's eight bear species and, specifically, to protect the health of American bears.

I feel that this legislation is worthy of support for many reasons. First, it will ensure that the United States does not contribute to the disastrous trade in bear parts by prohibiting the importation and exportation of U.S. bear viscera. The Bear Protection Act will also make it illegal for a person to sell, barter, offer to sell or barter bear viscera, in interstate or foreign commerce. Enforcement provisions of this statute fall under U.S. Lacey Act of 1981 that will authorize the imposition of civil and criminal penalties, permit the forfeiture of wildlife contraband, and authorize rewards to persons providing information leading to arrests, criminal convictions, or civil penalty assessments.

The Bear Protection Act will also promote international cooperation to protect bears by requiring that the United States Trade Representatives and the Secretary of the Interior work with the representatives of the leading importing, exporting, and consuming countries of bear viscera to establish a coordinated strategy to end this detrimental trade. It wall allow Congress to remain involved and retain oversight of progress by requiring an annual report.

The Bear Protection Act's provisions will protect America's bears by preventing exploitation and potential population decimation by poachers supplying the widespread demand for valuable bear parts. Although bear populations in the United States are currently thriving, the dramatic decline of bear populations outside the U.S. could lead poachers to turn to American bears to fill the increasing demand for bear viscera.

In Florida, the unique black bear subspecies Ursus americanus floridanus, is considered threatened with extinction. At one time, black bears in Florida and parts of Southern Georgia and Alabama numbered more that 12,000. Florida's bears were found in every part of the State, including the Florida keys. Now, fewer than 1,500 bears remain in scattered and isolated populations, lee than 20% of the bears' historic range. Development and loss of habitat are the main threats to the survival of the species. However, illegal harvest of bears and the existing market for bear galls are a pressing problem in the State of Florida and are a concern for the wildlife law enforcement community.

In Florida, it is illegal to sell the carcasses or parts of black bears. When Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Officers began encountering individuals selling bear carcasses and parts, the alleged offenders would often identify them as coming from other species of bears in order to circumvent the law. To combat this problem of enforcement, it became obvious that legislative modifications were necessary. In 1994 the law was modified to make it illegal to sell any bear carcass or parts from any species of bear. This law made enforcement much easier and more effective for our officers.

On a national level, The Bear Protection Act would allow U.S. law enforcement officials to address the poaching of bears and the sale of their parts in an effective manner. As long as some states legally permit the sale of bear parts, poachers will be able to exploit these animals for profit through these states. The outright ban on trade, sale, or barter of bear viscera will close these existing enforcement and jurisdictional loopholes that exist as a result of a patchwork of state laws.

The Bear Protection Act will establish national guidelines for trade in bear parts, but will not weaken any existing state laws that have been instituted to deal with this issue. The prohibitions in the Bear Protection Act are not as restrictive as Florida Law; however, such stringent restrictions may not be as essential on a nationwide basis for states who do not have threatened species. Moreover, this legislation is a step in the right direction to allow the continued harvest of bears where appropriate and specifically addresses the issue of the sale of bear viscera, which is not an integral part of bear hunting by legitimate sport hunters.