by John J. Jackson III, Chairman, Conservation Force
In the race to attack President Trump and big game hunting, the general media and others have the facts all wrong. No elephant trophy import permit applications have been approved from anywhere at all. In fact, at this writing no elephant import permits are in the process of approval from anywhere. Until President Trump indicates his approval, all elephant imports are in limbo. When and if the President allows, enhancement permitting will follow a new process or procedure that is found acceptable by the courts under the Administrative Procedures Act.
The “new” application-by-application procedure is not really new. It is the procedure that has been used for most trophy determinations. In the case of elephant that were down listed to CITES Appendix II, and to “vulnerable” by IUCN, the FWS expedited the permit processing by making a countrywide enhancement determination for a year or more in advance. The court in the recent SCI/NRA case has held a prospective countrywide enhancement finding requires a full rule making process. That ruling is what has prompted the FWS to do away with countrywide findings and to go back to permit-by-permit decisions. The FWS was concerned that full rulemakings would take at least a year to prepare, take comments and respond to the comments received. The FWS believes making an individual enhancement determination for each permit application received will be more efficient than trying to go through this public process.
All prior enhancement determinations made on a “countrywide” basis have been “withdrawn.” There were 17 country by country enhancement determinations revoked by the FWS to comply with the court opinion in the SCI/NRA case. Trump had nothing to do with the withdrawals but is most certainly holding up processing elephant permits from the finest and most successful programs.
The district court’s decision will impact the two suits filed by anti-hunting organizations to enjoin the positive enhancement findings for elephant and lion and thus stop the 2016, 2017 and 2018 import permits for Zimbabwe lion and elephant trophies. Those organizations are relying upon the SCI/NRA case as proof the procedure used by the FWS was illegal. Conservation Force had prepared an extensive intervention on behalf of most parties in interest, but we are now awaiting the outcome of the court’s decision with respect to application-by-application enhancement findings. If the court accepts that the FWS can withdraw its prior countrywide findings, negative and positive, then there will be nothing to defend. It is likely the suits will simply be dismissed.
The positive enhancement determinations for lion imports from RSA, Zambia (it was never suspended, just closed by itself) and Zimbabwe are all withdrawn. All elephant and bontebok enhancement findings were also withdrawn by the FWS. No trophies for lion, elephant, or bontebok are currently importable. Permits cannot be issued until the underlying enhancement determinations are made on a legally acceptable basis. Hopefully the court will accept the permit-by-permit basis, but rest assured the anti-hunters are already preparing to challenge that traditional procedure too.
More next month after the last round of legal briefs and the court final judgment.