Endangered Species Treaty Misused to Facilitate Mass Fur Export


Today, conservation groups filed suit to require open, public review of the impacts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service’s) export program that facilitates international trade in bobcat and gray wolf pelts, creates more incentive for trapping, and harms wolves, lynx, and other native wildlife.

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. The Service has never publicly evaluated the effects of this export program on native wildlife. Nor has it looked at the enormous “bycatch” of other, non-target animals typically caught in traps and snares.

“The removal of nearly 60,000 bobcats from U.S. soil each year to fuel the international fur market warrants serious analysis, not zero analysis.” said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Matthew Bishop. “The agency has mismanaged the domestic side of what is otherwise an important treaty.”

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requires all federal agencies to publicly evaluate the environmental impacts of activities such at the CITES furbearer export program. To date, however, the Service has yet to evaluate any aspect of its export program under NEPA.

“The public is largely unaware that not only is cruel wildlife trapping still happening, it is increasing in many western states driven by the international fur market,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The idea that trapping tens of thousands of native animals has no impact on our environment is preposterous.”

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Read more about our work to ensure proper review for the CITES export program here.

Matthew Bishop, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-324-8011, Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, 406-414-7227,  

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