Chalk-up a win for Safari Club International and National Rifle Association of America in the continuing saga of the elephant trophy import question.
The road to complete victory continues, but SCI and the NRA have forced the government to do real fact-finding and not react to emotion from the antihunters. Although the ban on imports remains in effect until the government finishes its rule-making, SCI, the NRA and other hunting organizations now have a chance to get the real story of hunting-based sustainable use conservation on the table.
SCI and NRA received excellent news Dec. 22 from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled in favor on a key claim in SCI's and NRA's 2014 elephant importation litigation. In that case, SCI and NRA sued the previous administration for imposing on April 4, 2014 an abrupt ban on elephant importation from Zimbabwe.
In its 33-page opinion, the D.C. Circuit reversed an earlier unfavorable ruling issued by the lower court. The appellate court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should have conducted notice and comment rulemaking before abandoning almost two decades of a formal position that the import of legally hunted trophies enhanced the survival of the African elephants in Zimbabwe.
The FWS had adopted negative enhancement findings for elephants harvested in 2014 and 2015. SCI and NRA sued, at least in part, because the FWS's negative findings prevented U.S. hunters from importing Zimbabwe elephants harvested in those years.
Although the court determined that the previous administration had acted illegally, it will take some time before we know the effect the ruling will have on the ability of individuals to import elephants from Zimbabwe.
It is also uncertain how the FWS will respond to the court's ruling and how long the entire process could take if and when the FWS engages in further rulemaking on the importation of elephants harvested in Zimbabwe in 2014 and 2015. It is possible that the government will decide not to do anything, but that opens the door for hunting organizations to file petitions to try to force the government to propose a rule to lift the ban. Questions also remain about how this ruling will affect the decision-making process for the importation of other species for which the FWS has made or will make enhancement findings.
While some things about the practical impact of the ruling remain in question – there is no question that the D.C. Circuit's ruling is a victory for SCI, NRA and all those who recognize that hunting plays an essential role in conserving Africa's wildlife. The court's opinion requires the FWS to include the public, including the hunting public, in the process of decision-making that affects the importation of legally-hunted wildlife.
Hunters and organizations like SCI and NRA will be able to provide information about the role that hunting plays in species management and conservation. The FWS will not be able to impose uninformed, abrupt importation bans, like it did in 2014.
SCI and NRA will continue to provide additional information as it becomes available.
Safari Club International - First For Hunters is the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide. SCI's approximately 200 Chapters represent all 50 of the United States as well as 106 other countries. SCI's proactive leadership in a host of cooperative wildlife conservation, outdoor education and humanitarian programs, with the SCI Foundation and other conservation groups, research institutions and government agencies, empowers sportsmen to be contributing community members and participants in sound wildlife management and conservation. Visit the home page www.SafariClub.org, or call (520) 620-1220 for more information.
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