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Lawsuit Challenges Massive U.S. Export of Wild Animal Pelts for International Fur Trade

MISSOULA, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over its program allowing the export of tens of thousands of wild animals trapped and killed for the international fur trade. The Service’s program covers five “furbearing” species, including bobcats, river otters, wolves, lynx and brown bears, representing the deaths of about 80,000 individual animals annually in recent years.

“The United States exports a shocking number of animals trapped and killed for their fur each year,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. “Trapping for the highly lucrative international fur trade is just plain cruel and reduces local populations of bobcats, river otters, lynx and other wildlife.”

The international fur market has boomed in recent years, largely driven by demand in China, Russia and Europe, and resulted in increased killing and export of furbearing animals from the United States. Pelt prices for bobcats, wild cats sought after for their beautiful gray-brown coats, rose from around $85 in 2000 to a high of nearly $590 in 2013. The number of bobcat pelts exported from the United States roughly quadrupled during this time, peaking at a high of 65,000 skins exported commercially in 2013.

In addition to bobcats, more than 33,000 river otter pelts were exported from 40 different states, and more than 3,000 lynx pelts were exported from Alaska in recent years. Gray wolves are also hunted, trapped and exported from Montana and Alaska, as are brown bears from Alaska.

Because these five furbearer species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty governing trade in imperiled wildlife, export from the United States must be strictly regulated. However, trapping exceeds sustainable levels in some regions, and removing massive numbers of these top predators has ripple effects throughout the ecosystem. An unquantified number of foxes, beavers and other species also die in traps set for these furbearer species.

Today’s lawsuit targets the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to fully consider all the environmental effects of its furbearer-export program, including at the state and local levels where wildlife impacts are most significant. Ultimately the suit seeks to improve in the U.S. export program and reduce the number of animals killed and exported for their fur.

“With killing on such a massive scale, it’s time for U.S. regulators to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of the growing fur-export market,” said Uhlemann.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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