Russian poachers are killing 200 to 400 polar bears each year in the Bering Strait region, a trend that threatens to halve the strait’s bear population by 2020, according to new research by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Russia and the U.S. are currently considering ratification of a treaty the two nations signed in 2000 that is intended to protect the region’s population of about 4,000 polar bears. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing today on the treaty, which has the backing of the Bush administration. The Soviet Union banned polar bear hunting in 1956, but in recent years illegal hunting has been on the rise. Initially Russian poachers were simply after bear meat, but now they’re selling pelts and organs like gall bladders that are sought after in Asia for their medicinal properties; some of these sales are being made via the Internet.