POLITICS

Trump Administration Sued On Elephant Trophy Ban Flip-Flop

Environmental groups say the new policy encourages big-game hunters to kill African elephants for "cheap thrills."
03/21/2018 08:03 AM ET
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Updated Mar 21, 2018

A coalition of environmental and animal welfare groups has filed an amended lawsuit targeting a new Trump administration policy that allows African elephant hunting trophies to be imported to the United States on a “case-by-case” basis.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reversing President Donald Trump’s pledge to uphold a ban on importing elephant body parts, announced in a March 1 memo that it would immediately begin considering permit applications. The order ended an Obama-era ban on the import of such trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, describes the new Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines as unlawful and violations of the Endangered Species Act. The suit was brought by four groups, including the Humane Society and the Center of Biological Diversity, and names Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as a defendant. 

“Despite ample scientific and economic concerns and tremendous public outcry over trophy hunting, this administration seems determined to allow Safari Club International and other special interests to unduly influence federal wildlife policy decisions,” Anna Frostic, an attorney for the Humane Society, said in a statement. Safari Club International is a trophy hunting lobbying group with close ties to Zinke.

Trump in November described big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show,” and in January pledged to uphold the ban on importing body parts.

The Fish and Wildlife Service memo undermined that vow, granting elephant trophy permits “on an individual basis.” 

“Elephants shouldn’t be killed for cheap thrills, and the Trump administration shouldn’t make crucial trophy hunting decisions behind closed doors,” Tanya Sanerib, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Federal wildlife officials seem to be thumbing their nose at President Trump after he called for an end to the horror show of trophy hunting.”  

The government memo also dismissed Endangered Species Act concerns for trophies taken from lions and bontebok, a species of antelope, hunted in several African countries.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it changed the policy in response to a court ruling in December that faulted the Obama administration’s implementation of the trophy restriction.

But the lawsuit says the agency went beyond the court ruling by “wiping the slate clean” of longstanding restrictions, and violated its “statutory duty to promote the conservation of species threatened with extinction.”

The suit adds that the government “failed to rationally explain its 180 degree turn from determining that Zimbabwe is incapable of managing elephant hunting sustainably, to proclaiming open season on elephants and lions in Zimbabwe, a top destination for American trophy hunters due to lax regulations exacerbated by rampant corruption.” 

The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to issue any permits to import elephant trophies under its new guidelines, according to The Associated Press. It issued 37 permits for lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia after a similar ban was lifted last year. Zinke was sued by the same four environmental groups over that decision. This week’s complaint is an amendment to that ongoing case. 

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, has a history of attacking endangered species.

He recently came under scrutiny for appointing an advisory board full of trophy hunters. His International Wildlife Conservation Council, which held its first meeting last week, includes “celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and well-heeled trophy collectors,” AP reported. 

One board member, Peter Horn, is a co-owner of a private New York hunting preserve with Trump’s two big-game hunting adult sons.