US Fish & Wildlife Withdraws 17 Enhancement Findings for Elephant, Lion

By Barbara Crown, Editor-in-Chief

In a March 1 memo, Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) withdrew 17 past enhancement and CITES nondetriment findings for elephant, lion and bontebok. The findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted trophies listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At this writing, the USFWS intended to use the information from these findings and already contained in its files as well as additional information it receives to evaluate and issue individual applications on a permit-by-permit basis instead of a finding for an entire country, as done in the past. Basically, the USFWS would make an ESA enhancement finding for each individual application. This is in response to a DC Circuit Court’s ruling in a suit brought by SCI and the NRA against USFWS over its suspension of imports of Zimbabwe elephants.

The plan to make permit-by-permit findings was to be reviewed by the court on March 16, 2018. By the time you read this, the court will have reviewed this plan and either approved or rejected it. If approved, USFWS would begin reviewing application permits that have been submitted. If the plan was rejected, it could be well over a year before any applications for lion or bontebok species are approved. Permits for elephant also must wait for President Trump to lift his orders against issuing any importation permits. Currently, no elephant permits are being reviewed.

The new procedure will not review hunting site by hunting site, although hunters and safari operators may be required to provide site-specific information. Application by application means an enhancement finding would be made for that individual hunt at a certain point in time. It would not apply to an entire area, much less to an entire country. A countrywide enhancement finding would require a full rule-making procedure, including publication of a proposal in the Federal Register, with a public comment period for a minimum of 30 days, and republication of the final determination that addresses all the substantive issues raised in the comments and explains the full rationale of the final determination, followed by a 30-day wait before going into effect. This process would take up to a year to complete for each country and species. (See this month’s issue of World Conservation Force Bulletin by John J. Jackson III for more details on this development.)

More and more, developments such as this point to a near future in which the only safari operators able to operate will be those who can demonstrate effective conservation measures that enhance the survival of wildlife and who contribute to the development of local economies through hunting.