Trump administration sued over biased wildlife advisory council made up of 'hunting enthusiasts'

'If we have to sue to get our government to listen to wildlife conservation experts, we’re happy to do so', says attorney

The US Interior Department announced in March that it would break with an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies
The US Interior Department announced in March that it would break with an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies

Advocacy groups sued the Trump administration Wednesday over what they call the biased makeup of a wildlife advisory council.

The lawsuit filed in US district court in New York alleges that the International Wildlife Conservation Council is made of “hunting enthusiasts” and “politically connected donors” who are likely to craft favourable policy for groups that profit from hunting “imperiled animals,” the complaint said.

“It’s very obvious [that the 17-member council has] an intent to undermine some of the protections put in place” based on the affiliations of its members, Zak Smith, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Washington Post. Mr Smith said the law requires advisory councils to be balanced so that all sides are represented.

The panel was announced in November 2017 by Interior secretary Ryan Zinke. Its purpose is to increase American awareness of conservation, ensure the support of hunting as a tool to combat illegal poaching and review bans of imported animal trophies, the charter said. In its ranks are a National Rifle Association official, six members who are listed as active hunters and five members who are said to represent wildlife conservation groups.

Paul Babaz, the president of Safari Club International, is listed as a conservationist, and his organisation has been criticised for endorsing the hunting of vulnerable animals. SCI, which told The Washington Post in an email it is monitoring the lawsuit, endorsed Mr Zinke in his House campaign in Montana in 2016 and donated $10,000 (£7,600), according to website OpenSecrets.

The lawsuit is largely cautionary, Mr Smith said, as the council has yet to publicly issue an advisory. But advocates are still worried about the potential sway that the “biased” council might have – as advisory recommendations are “looked at more closely and are likely to be readily adopted,” Mr Smith said.

“If we have to sue to get our government to listen to wildlife conservation experts, we’re happy to do so,” Mr Smith said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed by the Democracy Forward Foundation on behalf of the Nrdc, the Centre for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.

Advocacy groups in the complaint also allege that the council disobeyed long standing rules by not publishing transcripts and detailed notes of its meetings in the proper amount of time. Groups in the complaint said they diverted organisational resources to procure “records that should [already be] public”.

The Interior Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, announced in March that it would break with an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies, saying it would permit entry on an individual basis. The NRA and SCI heralded the Trump administration’s decision, according to The Hill.

Thirty-three permits were granted between 2016 and 2018, and half of the recipients donated to Republicans or have a connection to SCI, according to a Friends of Animals report.

The Washington Post

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