Menendez Leads Call for Trump Admin to Ban Trophy Hunt Imports of Endangered Species

Photo by Harvey Barrison via Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led several Democratic colleagues, including Cory Booker, in calling on the Trump Administration to uphold the ban on the importation of sport-hunted elephant, lion and bontebok trophies taken from several African countries where it has been determined to have no demonstrated positive conservation impact. President Trump has publicly-stated his opposition to trophy hunting, saying he would “be very hard pressed to change [his] mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants [sic] or any other animal.”  Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has decided to allow, on a case-by-case basis, for the import of sport-hunted trophies of the three separately listed species taken from six African nations.

“We must conclude that either USFWS is willfully ignoring the direction of the President, or the President is ignoring the necessary policy, regulatory, or legal considerations, and misleading the American people as to the position of his Administration on the trophy hunting of endangered species,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and USFWS Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan.  “We urge you to act without delay to take responsible steps to proactively ban trophy hunting in all areas where it has not been proven to have a positive conservation impact or where its impact cannot be verified.”

While the Endangered Species Act (ESA) specifically states that USFWS must find “that the killing of the trophy animal will enhance the survival of the species,” the agency in November 2017 published an enhancement finding in the Federal Register to allow the import of African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, and then subsequently put it “on hold” after intense public outcry and comments in opposition by the President.  Then, to comply with the December 22, 2017 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which clarified the administrative process needed to issue or alter an enhancement finding, instead of taking steps to implement the President’s stated policy banning the import of some or all hunting trophies, USFWS issued a memorandum allowing the case-by-case importation of trophy killings.

“It is clear that the President was not merely expressing his personal views on the matter, as he made repeated statements over the course of several months that a final decision to uphold the Obama Administration’s ban was imminent,” the letter continued.  “However, no requisite action was taken by USFWS.”

The senators urged the administration to make clear its policy on the importation of sport-hunted trophies, and requested timely answers to a series of questions, including what steps USFWS has taken to ensure the public is properly informed of any policy changes or import permit decisions, and whether it receives input from any outside interest groups, individuals, or the President’s family members, whom are avid trophy hunters.

The letter was also co-signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

In November, Sen. Menendez led a letter, signed by 21 Senate colleagues, to Secretary Zinke calling on the Interior to officially halt any reversal of the ban on importing sport-hunted African elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Sen. Menendez introduced the CECIL Animal Trophies Act in 2015—named after the famed African lion, Cecil, killed by an American trophy hunter—to disincentivize trophy killings of species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The full letter can be found below and here.