Maryland Rep. Helen D. Bentley has taken aim at a growing international black market in bear parts with a bill to ban the export of the animals' gall bladders, which are highly prized as an Asian folk remedy.
Mrs. Bentley, a Republican, said yesterday that she hoped Congress would stop what she called the "senseless slaughter."
The bill she introduced Wednesday puts her at odds with the Bush administration, which opposed a worldwide restriction on trade in black bears adopted this week by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meeting in Kyoto, Japan.
But Mrs. Bentley's bill was welcomed by wildlife preservation groups, who say they fear that even the limited trade agreed to by the international convention is not strict enough.
"We think any step to protect black bears is a good one," said Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals.
Black bears are found throughout North America and northern Mexico.
Their numbers are relatively stable in the United States, but conservation groups contend that illegal poaching is cutting into the population in some states.
The bill would not have any impact on international trophy hunting, since it only bans trade in bear "viscera," or organs. But bears' gallbladders reportedly have commanded prices in excess of $10,000 each on the black market.
Mrs. Bentley rarely sponsors or supports environmental legislation. The League of Conservation Voters ranked her the worst in the Maryland delegation.
"I just wish this environmental interest would spill over into other areas," said Ali Webb of the league.
Mrs. Bentley said she was moved by her horror at viewing a National Geographic documentary on bear poaching.