for National Geographic News
Healthy populations of U.S. black bears may be tempting poachers involved with illegal international trade in bear body parts, some environmentalists say.
Mild poaching activity has already been going on for years, thanks in part to lax laws in some states.
Existing trade and the threat of more poaching therefore spurred U.S. Representatives Raul M. Grijalva, Democrat from Arizona, and John Campbell, Republican from California, to reintroduce the Bear Protection Act on August 3.
In 2000 and 2001, a law similar to the new act passed the U.S. Senate, but did not pass the House.
The new legislation would ban any import, export, or interstate commerce in U.S. bear organs and fluids—most notably gallbladders and bile.
These and other bear body parts—like those of tigers, rhinoceros, and other species—have long been used in traditional Asian medicines.
By acting now, the U.S. can prevent a dramatic decline in bear populations like the ones seen in Asia, some conservationists argue.
But other experts say that the new bear-parts legislation misses the mark.
The global bear-parts trade is a "huge problem, especially in Asia," said Dave Garshelis, a bear biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and co-chair of the IUCN's Bear Specialist Group.
But in North America, "it's miniscule."
Demand for Asiatic black bear parts—coupled by habitat loss—has earned that species a "vulnerable" listing with the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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