News reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lifted an Obama-era ban on importing elephant trophies from Africa are misleading, the federal bureau contends.
Fish and Wildlife, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, was forced to propose a new policy after a federal appeals court ruled in late December the Obama administration did not follow proper regulatory procedures when it implemented its ban on the importation of elephant-hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
The bureau insisted it has kept in place its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, which designated the African elephant as endangered in 1979. But, now, instead of a blanket ban on trophy imports, it will evaluate permit applications on a case-by case basis, continuing to use the criterion that granting the permit would enhance the survival of the species in the wild.
The Endangered Species Act required Fish and Wildlife to create periodic “countrywide enhancement findings” that evaluate how a particular country manages conservation and hunting. The finding determines whether or not hunting an animal in that country will enhance the survival of the species.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gavin Shire told WND the bureau must withdraw its countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries.
A countrywide finding in 2015 prevented anybody from importing an elephant trophy from Zimbabwe into the United States.
But the appeals court, in a case brought by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, ruled that the Obama administration did not go through the step-by-step process of publishing the proposed regulation, inviting public comment and then finalizing the regulation.
The appeals court then sent the case back to the D.C. Circuit Court for a resolution. The Interior Department is now waiting to see if the court will accept its proposal to handle the applications on a case-by-case basis.
The federal government essentially is proposing that the information from its countrywide findings, along with any new information, be used to determine whether to accept or reject each application for a trophy permit.
The bureau argues the new policy is more nimble, allowing for up-to-date information.
The periodically issued countrywide findings previously were used to establish a blanket ban, regardless of any new information. Now a finding lasts only as long as the next permit.
Trump blasted ‘horror show’
Fish and Wildlife initially announced the lifting of the ban Nov. 16, causing a huge public backlash. A day later, Trump said he had put the move “on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts.”
The president tweeted two days later he “will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”
Now, the president is being widely accused of breaking his promise.
Fish and Wildlife’s Shire told WND that because aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the department cannot comment about specific next steps.
But he said President Trump “has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article was published.
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, confirmed Tuesday that the positions of Secretary Ryan Zinke and the president on the issue haven’t changed.
“The recent FWS posting on the website does not break any promises,” she insisted.
Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press the Trump administration “is trying to keep these crucial trophy import decisions behind closed doors, and that’s totally unacceptable.”
“Elephants aren’t meant to be trophies, they’re meant to roam free,” she said.
The AP noted Trump’s two adult sons are trophy hunters, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is an avid hunter who ordered the arcade game “Big Buck Hunter Pro” to be installed in the employee cafeteria at the agency’s Washington headquarters. Zinke said the move would promote wildlife and habitat conservation.
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) September 19, 2017