Polar bears killed 6 years ago stuck in storage after Senate blocks sportman's bill

Say what you will about Congress's catering to narrow, special interests. This past week, the Senate, in blocking a vote on an outdoor sportsman's bill, kept one group quite literally on ice: 41 polar bears that were shot more than six years ago and have largely remained in storage in Canada while U.S. lawmakers debate whether they can be imported.

The polar bears were legally killed by hunters such as Don Hershey, co-founder of an agriculture-equipment company in Lancaster, Pa., who traveled to the northern reaches of Canada in March 2008 to hunt the animals. But the hunters ran into a problem when they tried to bring the bears back. The U.S. government's decision to label the bears a "threatened" species in May 2008 made it illegal to import polar-bear trophies, even those killed before the ban went into effect, leaving the bears killed in March and April of that year in bureaucratic limbo.

Not everyone wants to allow the polar-bear trophies to be imported, as some animal-rights groups worry any one-time exemption to the ban would set a dangerous precedent. But for the small group of hunters affected by the ban, the fight is worth it.

"I'm sure there are more important matters on their plate, but to us, this is one of the most important things they could do to make it right," said Christopher Hanks, who shot his bear in April 2008.

He and the other hunters had hoped this would be their year to get their bears. The House had readily given bipartisan support to a measure that would allow bear importation, and the Obama administration had given its approval to the policy as well.

Even in the Senate, the polar-bear section of a broader hunting and fishing bill wasn't hotly debated. But the larger measure fell victim to partisan tensions over the Senate's amendments process and to the sensitive politics of gun laws. Some Democrats wanted to use the measure to move tougher gun-control measures, while Republicans sought to add language loosening gun restrictions. Ultimately, support for the bill weakened, and proponents couldn't corral the 60 votes needed to move it forward. That may have been the last, best chance for the hunters to secure their trophies this year.

"I don't care who is in office, I don't have any respect for none of them," Mr. Hanks said. "It's disheartening as hell."

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