Elephant trophy decision faces pushback from some Trump allies
The Trump administration’s decision to reverse course on an Obama-era ban on African elephant trophy imports is facing pushback from some allies of President Trump.
While hunting advocacy groups and members of Congress who back them are cheering the decision from the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to allow imports on a case-by-case basis, others are knocking the move.
Two conservative media hosts who pushed Trump in November to put a pause on a decision to overturn an established trophy import ban are among those urging him to hold up the Obama-era order.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a plea to Trump on Wednesday asking him to change the new policy and warning him what could happen to supporters if he did not.
“Please @realDonaldTrump, stick with your good instinct on this. We do NOT want to reward animal poaching. You will alienate independents & conservationists! #RespectAllofGodsEarth,” she tweeted.
Ingraham previously tweeted at Trump in November saying, “I don’t understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants. Stay tuned.”
The next day, facing widespread backlash over the move, Trump tweeted saying he was putting a hold on the decision.
Conservative radio host Michael Savage has also spoken out against the FWS policy this week, writing in a blog post Wednesday that he “felt betrayed” by the administration’s secret decision after having previously spoken in person with Trump on the issue.
“I had spent a dinner talking to the President about environmental issues, and especially this, and this is what happened anyway,” Savage wrote.
“I made it clear that this was a red line that could not be crossed, that now elephants, lions and other big game had a target painted on them. I explained that the root of ‘conservative’ is the same as ‘conservation’ and the two do not need to be diametrically opposed. I explained what was meant by dominion, as I carefully spelled out in God Faith and Reason.”
“We hope that the president will step in here and overrule this order,” he added.
Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have remained notably silent on the decision since it was released last week, with neither tweeting about the topic.
At a White House press briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s position “remains the same.”
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift also said in a statement Tuesday that Trump and Zinke’s “position remains unchanged.”
She added: “The recent FWS posting on the website does not break any promises.”
The decision to allow imports on a case-by-case basis has been welcomed by several Republican lawmakers, with some such as Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) calling it the best move for species conservation.
“The bottom line is, if you want to conserve a species, the best conservationists are hunters. Because you want to legally take the animals, not let the poachers take them. And time and time again we’ve seen animals are protected when they’re actually legally hunted,” Daines said.
Daines, who has hunted in the past with the president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr., was honored as Safari Club International’s Federal Legislator of the Year for 2016. The GOP lawmaker said he supports a decision that sides with hunters.
“I side with the hunters. Because, again, hunters bring dollars into these poor African countries that allow them to invest in enforcement of laws that stop poaching,” he said. “So again, as an avid hunter myself, it is hunters who are some of the best conservationists in our nation.”
The Safari Club and the National Rifle Association (NRA) had previously brought a joint lawsuit against the Interior Department that in part asked the service to “follow notice and comment rulemaking when adopting country-wide, negative enhancement and non-detriment findings that have the effect of banning imports into the United States.”
The U.S. District Court in December ruled in its favor.
However, animal rights groups have criticized the silently announced FWS policy change as a clear circumvention to that federal court decision, because the new policy would determine each case individually, with no chance for public scrutiny.
Nevertheless, Safari Club President Paul Babaz called the new policy change the “right track.”
“SCI supports the decision and feels the Fish and Wildlife Service is on the right track to make solid decisions for elephant conservation. Hunting in Southern Africa is important to the people there and the conservation of species and habitat throughout the region,” he said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday.
The NRA did not respond to The Hill’s requests for comment.
– Timothy Cama contributed