By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
A panel of trophy hunters appointed by the Trump administration to advise the federal government on international wildlife trade policy has bitten the dust.
Following a lawsuit filed by a coalition that included Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States, the Department of the Interior last week disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a committee that in every sense embodied the “fox in the henhouse” idiom.
The IWCC was appointed in 2017 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a trophy hunter himself. It was made up almost entirely of trophy hunters and gun industry lobbyists from groups like the NRA and Safari Club International who were charged with exploring the “benefits” international trophy hunting produces for foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.
In the two years that the IWCC was in existence, at a cost of $250,000 per year to taxpayers, the United States, not surprisingly, saw some of the worst policy decisions ever taken on endangered and threatened wildlife, most of them coming from the Department of the Interior and one of its agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 2018 and 2019, for example, IWCC members pressed for the lifting of prohibitions on imports of elephant and lion trophies from Tanzania, prohibited under the Obama administration, and in 2019, the USFWS did indeed issue an import permit for a lion trophy from Tanzania, the first since the species was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2016. The Trump administration also issued permits to three Americans to import trophies of endangered black rhinos they had killed.
The case our coalition brought challenged the IWCC’s legality because its members had a clear bias and were not acting in the public interest by promoting the trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species like elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos. Moreover, the panel unlawfully met behind closed doors, shutting authentic conservationists and other stakeholders out of important discussions and giving self-interested IWCC panel members all the freedom they needed to grease the wheels for their own ends.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the history of this terrible panel, rightly disbanded in response to our actions and complaints. Trophy hunting is on the decline around the world, by many indications, but the lobbies that support this gruesome pastime are forever on the lookout for opportunities to influence those in power and bring back bad practices. And we must engage them each and every time to stop them in their tracks.
Fortunately, Congress is also moving against trophy hunting. The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act, H.R. 2245, introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., would substantially restrict the import and export of trophies of any species listed or proposed to be listed under the Endangered Species Act and prohibit the import of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies (ProTECT) Act, H.R. 4804, introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Pete King, R-N.Y., would prohibit trophy hunting of ESA-listed species in the United States and the import of any trophy of a species listed under the ESA.
American trophy hunters kill more endangered and threatened animals around the world than hunters from any other country. That’s why the Humane Society Legislative Fund lobbied key congressional members and encouraged our constituents to weigh in against the continuation of the flawed IWCC. Now we’re pushing for the CECIL Act and the ProTECT Act to become law, and you can help by calling your members of Congress. Ask them to support these important bills so the world’s wildlife, already under threat because of climate change, habitat degradation and poaching, gets a reprieve from the completely unnecessary threat of trophy hunting.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.