Changing Planet

Letting the Foxes ‘Protect’ the Hens in Ryan Zinke’s Department of Interior

On November 8, U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council that will advise him. As a recent Science Policy Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science assigned to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Division of International Conservation, I’ve watched the disarticulation of legislation intended to protect such iconic treasures as elephants, lions and giraffes, all species that the American public insisted upon saving, and which are protected via Congressional oversight. Here, however, that sanctity is jeopardized by beguilement at the federal level by Secretary Zinke.

I make three points: 1) that the Government Accountability Office is legally mandated to protect against conflicts of interests in appointments for federal advisory committees, 2) that duplication of regulatory bodies is to be avoided, and 3) the U.S. role in international treaties concerning wildlife conservation will be inexorably weakened once the fox guards the hen house, in which are the hallowed species Americans have chosen to legally protect.

The DOI plan is to draw an 18-“discretionary” member Council from at least five entities named in the November 8 notice. Four of these represent industry interests despite the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) dictating that committees have balanced membership, avoid conflicts of interest, and provide agencies with objective advice.

These dictates are not evident in Zinke’s list of entities that includes: wildlife and habitat conservation and management organizations, U.S. hunters actively involved in international or domestic “hunting conservation”, the hunting sports industry, international hunting outfitters, and firearms or ammunition manufacturers.

It’s unclear how the “advice” of this Council would mesh with the in-house expertise of established divisions within USFWS. The Divisions of Management and Scientific Authorities already have decision-making mechanisms streamlined with 182 nations that are also signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES regulates trade in wildlife, including trophy-hunted species, through science-based assessments of a species risk from further exploitation and trade based on its vulnerability to compounded threats.

According to the notice, the Council will “review interactions with CITES with a goal of eliminating regulatory duplications” – even though the establishment of this new Council would epitomize duplication (FACA stipulates that councils be established out of necessity). The U.S. could soon become an outlier yet again by absconding from another international convention (this time CITES) just as it has become a fugitive in the Paris climate accord.

The Council would also review import suspensions and bans and “streamline and expedite” the process of import permits, presumably making it easier for U.S. hunters to import international wildlife trophies irrespective of what the science says.

For example, the USFWS ended the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Tanzania in April 2014 following a 60 percent decline in Tanzania’s elephants from ivory poaching. In an ongoing case, Safari Club International (SCI) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) are suing USFWS on the basis that many of SCI’s members already had made plans to hunt elephants in Tanzania in 2014.

There’s little doubt that SCI and the NRA will be represented on Zinke’s “Conservation” Council and work to overturn this and other bans, including on imports of lion and leopard trophies, undermining incentives for ethical hunts (not baited, nor captive or canned).

The Council will also review seizure and forfeiture actions and practices, very likely diminishing the well-established 117-year-old Lacey Act by which USFWS wildlife inspectors and Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) can seize, upon attempted import, wildlife protected by laws in other countries; in this way, inspectors and OLE help regulate imports of unlawful hunting trophies.

Finally, the Council will also review foreign species listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which include species of interest to U.S. hunters, for example exotic, endangered antelopes. The “take” of ESA listed species – irrespective of the country in which they live – is strictly regulated.

DOI is seeking comment and nominations for the Council in a period that is all of 16 and 30 days long, respectively. While the U.S. Constitution mandates that religion and state are not conflated, the line here between promulgating of business and recreational shooting grows increasingly murky. What is not is that when foxes guard the hens, and industry is indiscriminately merged with State under the guise of public benefit, the interest of many ethical hunters and other like-minded conservationists will be circumvented, as will time-honored federal policies.

While regulated, responsible hunting has indeed been part of the North American conservation movement with groups like Ducks Unlimited promoting the conservation agenda. For hunting to succeed as a conservation tool, good governance as well as sound understanding of population numbers and species ecology are prerequisites. This is not the reality everywhere U.S. hunters go.

  • Some 48 hours after this blog was published, SCI announced the lifting of Obama-era bans on the import of elephant hunting trophies into the U.S. from Zimbabwe and Zambia. More information on the Humane Society blog.

Katarzyna Nowak is a conservation scientist affiliated with the Zoology Department at the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa. She has spent fifteen years researching and writing about the behavior and conservation of wild monkeys and elephants, and human-wildlife interactions. She helped establish and advises the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program. She’s currently based in Colorado’s Front Range. Photo credit: Trevor Jones

Katarzyna Nowak is a conservation scientist affiliated with the Zoology Department at the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa. She has spent fifteen years researching and writing about the behavior and conservation of wild monkeys and elephants, and human-wildlife interactions. She helped establish and advises the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program. She's currently based in Colorado's Front Range. Photo credit: Trevor Jones
  • fred domer

    This comment is in opposition to the whole idea of the U.S. Fish&Wildlife Service promoting international trophy killing for rich Americans.

    Science reasons: Kill the dominant male lion of the pride and protection is lost, new males kill the cubs, must then start over to increase the population. Kill a mother leopard and the young die. Kill the matriarch of an elephant herd and we loose migration route memories. As the largest of any species are targeted and their breeding potential destroyed, the entire species gradually declines in body size, size of tusks, etc.

    Moral reasons: What kind of a mind derives pleasure from killing these magnificent animals and mounting their head on a wall? These are very rich Americans, they have so much more than most people, yet all they want to do is kill. If they wanted to contribute to conservation, then give the money directly to conservation, don’t go thru the middle man(trophy guides) and have only 3% reach conservation. For the U.S. government to use tax dollars to promote this immorality is very very wrong. These are intelligent animals with real lives.

    Most of these animals ( gorilla, lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, rhino, giraffe, etc.) are under extreme pressure from many sides ( snares, poaching, poison, habitat destruction, bush meat, cattle, logging roads, Chinese, human population explosion, inbreeding from loss of wildlife corridors, wildlife laws not being enforced, etc.) The last thing they need is a rich American going after them with high velocity rifles, laser rangefinders, scopes, infrared sensors, etc. The odds are overwhelmingly in the trophy killer’s favor.

  • Lion Lady

    Ryan Zinke is a disgrace! It is exactly a case of the fox guarding the henhouse! This troubles me to a great degree. This horrible administration of monsters is undoing all the hard conservation work we have worked on for the last decade! We CANNOT let this happen without a major uprising. I have sent my letter and made my comments to the USFWS. BIG MONEY. This is all about BIG MONEY and SCI and the NRA have it. This is so beyond disgusting I am sickened.

  • Ian Giles

    The whole world knows there is a problem and yet it appears that the CONservation organizations are nothing more than fronts for hunting organizations.
    There is a system wide problem because of the established historical abuse of wildlife.
    Conservation groups should have NO obligation towards hunters.
    “Financial Dependence” on “hunter wealth” is a direct result of the conflict of interest and is the source of the problem.
    Hunt clubs like Safari Club International, Dallas Safari Club and others, have direct working relationships with governments and tax funded “CONservation” departments
    Hunt clubs like Safari Club International, Dallas Safari Club and others make claims of their “role in conservation”, and “philanthropic donations” to impoverished nations.
    These lies are the basis of their qualification as “charity organizations” which justify their 501 (c) “Non-profit” status. Preferentially reduced taxation and receiving of “donations” is one major mechanism for fund generation. This should be identified as fraudulent and addressed.
    The origins of “African corruption” are firmly rooted in Washington DC, Ottawa, London, Brussels and Beijing.
    Everything downstream of the CONFLICT OF INTEREST, is necessarily complicit. Traditional CONservation is dependent on funds and grants that are already tainted by hunter influence.
    This is why for example we see traditional CONservation organizations supporting hunting in Namibia and elsewhere.

  • Nancy Lemburg

    If hunting is going to continue, bring honor back to the hunter. Rifle, scope only.

  • Jerry Golden

    Stop allowing trophy hunting. That is just killing for the sheer joy of it or a testosterone rush. Good grief, many of these animals are endangered or threatened! Killing them for money is so stupid! And they are not killed for food or clothing. They are killed so so person can get off on killing something. SICK!!!

  • DenisLipatov

    FWS, to promote hunting.
    “Some of my best memories are hunting and fishing with my dad and granddad, and then later teaching my own kids to hunt and fish . That’s something I want more families to experience,” Zinke said in a September statement in which he announced that the arcade game Big Buck Hunter would be temporarily installed in the department’s headquarters.
    It’s a pity to know that someone’s memorie are tied to killing and not going to museums or reading the books/Far more disturbing however is the fact he wants to pass it to the next generation

  • Renee Burkhead

    These sub-humans who do this, are a waste of the oxygen they breathe, and need to be stopped from destroying everything wonderful about the earth we share, with all critters.

  • Larry Laverty

    Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Unbelievable. How can such a biased politician, singular in purpose, out of step with the times, and dedicated to seeing wildlife merely as a commodity to be hunted and killed, how can this man sit in such an important position in our government? How?

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