VICTORY! Curbing the Federal Fur Export Program

Through an international endangered species trade treaty, the federal government is facilitating the mass export of furs and other animal parts to other countries where fur coats and the like are still socially acceptable. In doing so, the feds have skirted environmental review and public input for the program.

The U.S. is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the international treaty that outlawed the unregulated ivory trade. Under CITES, the Service regulates the export of pelts and other animal parts from wolves, bobcats, and other “furbearers’’ from the U.S. This is achieved through a permit and tagging system in conjunction with states and individual trappers. These pelts and parts are used in places like Russia and China for products such as fur coats, which can require 50 bobcat pelts each. In 2014 alone, the Service issued “CITES export tags” allowing the export of 59,000 bobcat pelts from the U.S. Recently, the Service also gave the state of Montana permission to tag gray wolf pelts for export.

So we filed suit, demanding that the Service publicly evaluate the effects of its export program on native wildlife, including the enormous “bycatch” of other, non-target animals typically caught in traps and snares. The Service has released an assessment of the program, but it is woefully deficient.

We won the part of our case that concerns “incidental take statements,” which are used to determine when the Fish and Wildlife Service must take action in response to the accidental killing of endangered species like Canada lynx. That part of the federal export program will now be rewritten in a way that abides by the Endangered Species Act and, hopefully, protects Canada lynx and other look-alike species. We will follow up to ensure it does.

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