Kristol, Trippi Group Pushes Back Against Trump on Big-Game Hunting Trophies

Elephants roam freely near the railway track that Cecil the lion crossed when he was lured onto a farm in an illegal hunt in Hwange, Zimbabwe, on Aug. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition fighting to save elephants filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Interior in a quest for transparency about the Trump administration’s elephant trophy import ban policy reversal.

In a November statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argued that the imports from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe and Zambia, backed by the Safari Club International, was in the name of conservation.

“Like us, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other African countries are passionate about conserving their wildlife for future generations. This commitment is shared by the U.S. hunting community that has done so much for the conservation of wildlife here in America and around the world,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “Funds generated by U.S. hunters are the backbone of conservation efforts in Africa, helping combat the scourge of poaching and wildlife trafficking that is threatening Africa’s wildlife. We will continue work to combat heinous wildlife crimes while empowering and incentivizing local communities to be a part of the solution.”

FWS then issued the new rule in the Federal Register: “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has made a finding that the killing of African elephant trophy animals in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, will enhance the survival of the African elephant.”

After initial outrage, Trump tweeted, “Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!” Trump’s sons are big-game hunters who have posed with animals they’ve slaughtered.

But on March 1, the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a memorandum on “Withdrawal of Certain Finding for ESA-listed Specific Taken as Sport-hunted trophies.” Trophy imports from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as sought by the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association.

The Elephant Project, which brings together Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi on its advisory board, announced today that their FOIA request asks for “all documents relating to the establishment of the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), announced on November 8, 2017 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and documents relating to the involvement by President Donald J. Trump and members of his family, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, in the selection of members of the IWCC and the reversal of the Fish and Wildlife Service policy on importation of elephant trophies.”

The IWCC’s mission statement says the council would “develop a plan for public engagement and education on the benefits of international hunting” and “recommend removal of barriers to the importation into the United States of legally hunted wildlife.”

The Elephant Project notes “strong evidence that the protection of wildlife and the creation of a humane economy of wildlife ecotourism is a far superior conservation strategy that not only benefits elephants and other wildlife, but also can promote stability and prosperity in regions where wildlife is threatened.”

The project wants to see if experts who don’t view big-game hunting as a conservation strategy were denied membership on the 18-person council.

“Efforts pursued by The Elephant Project to end illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking while fostering a humane economy of ecotourism and research will help bring jobs and prosperity to challenged regions and promote growth and stability,” Kristol said today. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration appears more inclined to serve the interests of the big game trophy-hunting lobby and Trump family associates rather than threatened wildlife species and U.S. national security interests.”

Trippi called it “deeply disappointing to see the Trump administration sanction the senseless slaughter of animals.”

“The vast majority of Americans — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — oppose big-game trophy hunting of elephants and lions,” Trippi added. “The administration should respect the will of the American people and protect these majestic animals.”

The Elephant Project founder Dane Waters stressed that “the protection of elephants and other threatened wildlife is a test of moral leadership and character.”

“With these proposed policy changes, the current administration is failing that test,” Waters said.