Tue, Mar 20, 2018 - Page 9 News List

New Trump wildlife protection council defends trophy hunting

A US government-funded council largely made up of big-game hunters and celebrity guides has been formed to advise the US government on trophy imports, so it is no surprise that its members favor such imports

By Michael Biesecker  /  AP, WASHINGTON

Illustration: Yusha

Big-game hunters tapped by US President Donald Trump’s administration to help rewrite federal rules on importing the heads and hides of African elephants and lions as trophies on Friday last week defended the practice, arguing that threatened and endangered species would go extinct without the anti-poaching programs funded in part by the fees wealthy Americans pay to shoot some of them.

The US International Wildlife Conservation Council had its first meeting.

The Associated Press on Thursday last week reported that the council appointed by US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is stuffed with celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers and wealthy sportspeople who boast of bagging the coveted “Big Five” — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo.

One appointee also co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with Trump’s adult sons. Retired Oklahoma congressman Bill Brewster was unanimously selected as the board’s chairman.

Brewster said that the fees and other costs paid by foreign hunters to African countries are essential to funding anti-poaching programs.

“As long as an animal has value, it will exist,” Brewster said. “Most of us in this room enjoy hunting, but first has to come conservation and habitat preservation. Without that, there is no hunting.”

Brewster is a lobbyist who has also served on the boards of Safari Club International and the US National Rifle Association (NRA), groups that have sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to expand the list of countries from which trophy kills can be legally imported.

An NRA profile lauded Brewster and his wife’s five decades of participation and support for hunting, and his purchase of a lifetime NRA membership for his grandson when the boy was three days old.

Also on the board are Safari Club president Paul Babaz, a Morgan Stanley investment adviser from Atlanta, Georgia, and Erica Rhoad, a lobbyist and former Republican congressional staffer who is the NRA’s director of hunting policy.

Trump has decried big-game hunting as a “horror show” in tweets, but under Zinke, a former Montana congressman who is an avid hunter, the FWS has quietly moved to reverse restrictions introduced under former US president Barack Obama on bringing trophies from African lions and elephants into the US.

No import permits for importing elephant heads, hides or tusks have been issued since a ban was lifted earlier this month, but FWS spokesman Gavin Shire on Friday last week told a meeting that 37 permits for lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia were issued since October last year, when they were first allowed.

Shire declined to comment on whether any of the 16 members of the council had received any of those permits.

Access to the meeting at Interior Department headquarters in Washington was tightly controlled and a reporter was herded into a roped-off area at the back of the room.

The room was lined with murals of Native American hunting scenes, including men mounted on horseback shooting bison with bows and arrows.

After reporters complained about the roped-off area, the rope was removed following a lunch break.

As the meeting started, officials announced that Zinke was unable to attend the inaugural session of the council.

In a statement last year, Zinke said: “This council will provide important insight into the ways that American sportsmen and women benefit international conservation from boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation.”

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