Wildlife groups fear what comes next on elephant trophies
Wildlife conservation and animal rights groups are slamming the Trump administration’s move to permit some imports of African elephant trophies, fearing the new system will allow decisions to be made in secret.
“The direction that the government is going is not a good one and it’s not being good stewards of the animals that they are supposed to be caring for,” said Kitty Block, acting CEO and president of The Humane Society of the United States.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on Thursday that it will make determinations about whether to allow the trophy imports on a case-by-case basis, using scientific risk assessments and other available data.
“At least before we could get one of these countrywide findings, and then you would know, ‘OK, this is what the agency decided for the country. Does it check all of the boxes in terms of the regulatory requirements?’ ” said Tanya Sanerib, the international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s International Program.
“Now they say they are going to do it on a permit by permit basis and now it’s going to be impossible to track — our only recourse now will be the Freedom of Information Act. Given this administration, it doesn’t shock me at all.”
The Interior Department said the FWS had no choice but to change its policy after a D.C. Circuit Court ruling in December struck down an Obama-era policy that banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
The court said that regulation was invalid because the Obama administration did not follow the required steps under the Administrative Procedure Act.
“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for the FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”
But animal conservation groups are calling the policy change an obvious workaround to the federal court’s ruling, which said the FWS should go through an extensive public notice and comment process when proposing a regulation on the trophy imports.
“The greatest travesty for all of this imperiled wildlife is the fact that we just had a court rule that when FWS is making these decisions they need to involve the public, they need to see the light of day,” said Sanerib. “And then we get a memo from the Trump administration saying, ‘Not only are we going to do this behind closed doors, but we are going to take it to the windowless basement, and you’ll have no idea what we are doing.’ ”
Block said the new policy was no better than if the administration had decided to overturn the ban on elephant trophy imports entirely.
“This case-by-case approach is no better than listing it completely because it allows these decisions to be made in secret,” she said. “People aren’t going to know about it and why they made the decision. In many ways, I see this being even more problematic.”
Block said the Humane Society’s legal team was looking into the legality of what she called such a clear avoidance of a court ruling.
“When it said you had to have this public comment period — [the FWS] circumvented that by going case by case. We have a legal team and were certainly going to pursue any legal action that is available to us,” she said.
Annecoos Wiersema, an international law professor at the University of Denver, said the decision is also potentially harmful to the wildlife species the FWS is tasked with guarding. She said it could even pose a threat to the conservation model supported by many pro-hunting groups, which believe that big-game hunting benefits endangered herds through the revenue it generates.Read More...