By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Every year that passes sees hundreds of thousands of wild animals in the U.S. and around the world killed by trophy hunters, whose main motivation is to display whole animals or their body parts for bragging rights. Given all the threats facing wild animals, including habitat loss, environmental devastation and climate change, it is astounding that such a practice still exists today, which is why protecting animals from trophy hunting in the U.S. and around the world is a top priority for us.
The work to protect wild animals takes many forms. Here are highlights from the past year in the U.S. and around the world, as well as a glimpse of the challenges ahead.
Overcoming the trophy hunting lobby in the U.S.
In many ways, in the U.S., 2021 was a challenging year for wildlife, which is why the wins were particularly heartening. We didn’t hold back in celebrating when we heard the great news that, after a robust campaign from us and our allies, the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission voted in November to stop the 2022 spring bear hunting season. Honestly, we didn’t know which outcome to expect, and so we were elated to learn that the lives of mother bears and their dependent cubs were spared by this decision.
Wins like this mean the world to us at a time when protections for wild animals in the U.S. keep being eroded by state legislatures and commissions, state and federal wildlife agencies and by the trophy hunting lobby. But despite such setbacks, we helped to deliver significant victories to protect wild animals and raise awareness about the threats facing them.
- One of the biggest victories for wildlife this year was when Maryland became the eighth state to ban wildlife killing contests, cruel events where participants compete to gun down the biggest, the smallest or the most animals to win cash and prizes.
- As part of a larger strategy to take on trophy hunting, we worked with advocates to engage local governments to pass non-binding resolutions that condemn the cruel practice of killing contests. In 2021, we helped to pass 28 resolutions in several municipalities, including the county that is home to Ann Arbor, Michigan, calling for a statewide ban on wildlife killing contests.
- We also conducted an undercover investigation in the U.S. that exposed the excessive, wasteful conclusion of trophy hunted animals’ lives.
- Members of Congress, at our urging, acknowledged the close link between public health and animal welfare by allocating tens of millions of dollars to properly regulate or restrict businesses and trades that exploit animals most susceptible to contracting and spreading diseases in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This included $95 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for activities to proactively prevent pandemic spread by wildlife and come down hard on wildlife trafficking, including illicit trade in endangered and at-risk species.
So much of our work to protect wildlife involves defeating harmful measures that would weaken protections for animals, and in 2021, we celebrated key wins on this front:
- We successfully defeated three bills in Oregon that would have allowed hound-hunting of mountain lions.
- We defeated a bill in Oklahoma to open a trophy hunting season on mountain lions.
- We defeated a bill that would have opened a bear trophy hunt in Connecticut.
- And, finally, 2021 saw no bear trophy hunt in New Jersey.
The fight for wolves
Our work to end the trophy hunting of gray wolves has persisted since the species lost federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Our campaign and litigation teams have worked tirelessly to bring back protections for wolves and have continued to fight on their behalf with our coalition partners at both the federal and state level.
- In January, we and our coalition partners filed a federal lawsuit challenging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2020 rule delisting gray wolves throughout the continental U.S., which would expose wolf populations to extreme trophy hunting seasons in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota and devastate the ability for wider recovery throughout the wolves’ historic range. In Minnesota, we defeated an amendment that would have mandated a wolf hunt; as a result, no wolves were legally hunted in that state in 2021.
- We fought in court to try to stop Wisconsin’s disastrous February 2021 wolf hunt, the second-deadliest in the state’s history that killed at least 218 wolves in less than three days, nearly double the quota allotment. And when the state’s recalcitrant Natural Resources Board chair later refused to step down after his term ended—so he could continue to aggressively impose his unscientific, anti-wolf agenda—we joined with other groups to file a complaint and then support the Wisconsin Attorney General’s lawsuit to remove him.
- In May, we and our allies filed a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore permanent and emergency federal Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in the Northern Rockies after both Idaho and Montana passed numerous bills that included cruel trapping methods and extended seasons—the harms from which would almost destroy the wolf populations in those two states. In the meantime, we are pushing the agency for immediate emergency protections; we gathered more than 60,000 signatures through an action alert and sent them to Secretary Haaland.
- We urged members of the U.S. Congress to sign letters requesting that Secretary Haaland restore endangered species protections for gray wolves.
- We also filed a petition with the U.S. Forest Service in June, asking the agency to enact new regulations using its authority under the Wilderness Act to prohibit wolf trapping and snaring in designated wilderness areas.
- To round out the year, we and our allies filed a new federal lawsuit challenging Idaho’s wolf trapping and snaring program, which not only allows wolf trapping season to run year-round on private property, but also allows individual trappers to purchase an unlimited number of wolf tags and allows wolves to be chased down with packs of dogs. Idaho’s backwards policy not only hurts wolves, but also threatens to injure or kill federally protected grizzly bears and lynx in Idaho wolf traps.
Taking a stand for wild animals all over the world
Fighting to protect wild animals from the scope of a trophy hunter’s rifle is multifaceted work that aims to disrupt the import and export of trophies from the cruel hunts that claim animal lives, raise awareness and action among the public and fight for legal rulings for f the good of animals. There was a lot to celebrate in 2021:
- Thanks to Humane Society International’s campaigning, the UK recently announced one of the most comprehensive trophy hunting policy commitments to ban trophy imports of over 7,000 species, including lions, leopards, rhinos, African elephants, African buffalo, giraffes, polar bears and zebras.
- South Africa adopted massive reforms to ban captive lion breeding and the commercial trade of lion parts and to end the cub petting industry.
- In September, Humane Society International successfully launched the massive #NotInMyWorld campaign to raise awareness about trophy hunting across the European Union, which is the second largest importer of trophies in the world after the U.S.
- In March, we received good news about a lawsuit we filed back in 2016: A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot withhold certain wildlife trade data, including trophy import data.
Challenges ahead and how to help
As the year comes to an end, we’re rallying for the fights ahead. In the U.S., we are working with a strong coalition in Colorado to introduce legislation that would end the trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats and lynx, and in California to end the trophy hunting of bears potentially through both regulatory and legislative processes. Internationally, we’re forging ahead to try to pass legislation against the imports and exports of trophies in the top regions involved in this trade, including the U.S., UK, European Union, Argentina and South Africa.
You can help by continuing to share the stories of our work, keeping up the pressure on your lawmakers to make humane decisions for animals and signing a pledge to take a stand against trophy hunting.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.