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Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Senate to vote on bill to import polar bear pelts

By Erika Bolstad
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Legislation poised to pass the Senate would allow a small group of hunters who have been storing polar bear pelts in Canada to import them to the United States.

The bill, which is described as one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation for sportsmen in a generation, will be among the first to be passed by the Senate since the election. The Senate voted 92-5 Tuesday to move the bill forward to a full vote later this week.

The legislation was also the first bill from Congress to get a postelection nod from President Obama. The White House said Tuesday in a statement of administration policy that it "looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress and with the American people to advance a community-based conservation agenda."

Republicans had blocked the bill before the election, fearing that passage would boost the re-election prospects of the bill's Democratic sponsor, Montana Sen. Jon Tester. Tester ultimately won re-election, narrowly defeating Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., immediately moved to block Republicans from amending the bill, potentially stalling further action on the bill for days.

Tester's office is careful to differentiate his bill from one Rehberg championed. The Rehberg bill did allow some hunting on national parks; Tester's does not.

Among the bill's more obscure provisions: Allowing 41 hunters who killed polar bears in Canada before 2008 to import their pelts to this country. Since polar bears were listed in 2008 as threatened, Americans haven't been able to import polar bear trophies — generally a tanned skin and claws along with the skull and the penis bone, known scientifically as a "baculum" and in the indigenous languages of the Arctic as an "oosik." The bill applies only to pelts that hunters took before the 2008 ban. It keeps in place the existing ban, which doesn't allow any new pelts to be imported. That effectively keeps U.S. hunters from participating in Inuit-led hunts in Canada. Such hunts, which require hunters to travel for days by dog sled to the far northern reaches of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, cost $40,000 to $60,000.

Hunters who have polar bear trophies in Canada must submit an application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import them.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester was the Democratic sponsor of the bill.


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