[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] Monday approved a bill by voice vote that would make a 2000 treaty between the US and Russia [text] effective to protect the future of the world's polar bears (Ursus maritimus) [backgrounder; video]. The bill establishes quotas for allowable polar bear hunting in the two countries and prohibits the possession, sale or purchase of any polar bear or polar bear part not authorized by the treaty. The bill also calls for the creation of a joint committee between the US and Russia to ensure compliance with the treaty and budgets $2 million per year to fund the compliance program until the year 2010.
Currently, the US only allows native populations to hunt polar bears for subsistence. According to the Bering Sea Ecoregion Program of the World Wildlife Fund, Russia has not allowed polar bear hunting since 1956, but illegal hunting has been a problem in the country. The Polar Bear Specialist Group [advocacy website] of the World Conservation Union [advocacy website] cites climatic warming, pollution and overhunting as major threats to the polar bear population. In June, the US Senate [official website] approved a bill [PDF] similar to the one passed Monday and the details of the two measures will need to be reconciled. Earlier this year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service [official website] initiated a status review of the polar bear [JURIST report] to determine whether it should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act [text]. AP has more.