U.S.-Russia treaty will protect polar bears

A polar-bear-protecting treaty between the U.S. and Russia was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives this week. It would prohibit the possession, sale, and purchase of polar bears or parts thereof (ew!), and also set quotas on hunting by Native populations. Currently, Native Americans are allowed to hunt polar bears for subsistence; there is no permissible hunting in Russia, but illegal hunting is prevalent and polar-bear gall bladders are a hot commodity on the black market in Asia. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 of the fuzzy white bears live in the Arctic, but the World Conservation Union predicts a 30 percent population decline over the next 45 years due to global warming, pollution, and overhunting. The House bill OK’ing the treaty also approves government spending of $2 million a year on polar-bear programs; it must now be reconciled with a similar Senate bill passed last month before the final version can be sent to President Bush.