Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air

Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air

A controversial federal committee that advises the Trump administration on the benefits of international big game hunting may soon be terminated.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council during a member meeting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that he “hasn’t yet decided” on the pathway forward for the committee, after environmental groups challenged its authority in court last year.

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“I know [former Secretary] Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE spent a lot of time thinking about your appointment and he absolutely deeply appreciated your willingness to support it,” Bernhardt told the group, which consists primarily of pro-hunting industry representatives and recreational hunters.

“I also doubt he had any thought that he would suddenly find [federal advisory committees] tried in courts on a regular basis," he said. "And we had some experience with that recently.”

The International Wildlife Conservation Council was established in 2017 under Zinke, the same year the Trump administration moved to reverse a ban on elephant trophy imports from Africa. President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE ultimately intervened and the Fish and Wildlife Service shifted import decisions to a “case by case" basis.

The Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council were among the organizations that filed a lawsuit in August 2018, arguing the council was illegal because it was disproportionately filled with pro-hunting advisers. The groups said federal law requires all government advisory panels have a balanced mix of participants. The Trump administration moved to dismiss the suit, but a federal court overruled them in September.

Bernhardt told the committee Thursday that “as we get to December” he would be meeting with lawyers to decide the next best steps for the future of the advisory board, adding he hadn’t “yet decided what that pathway will be.”

“So I just wanted to let you know that I deeply appreciate it, and we will make the best call we can based on where we sit, and you should view that as just an example of life in this day and age,” he said of the lawsuit. “And I wanted to let you know I deeply appreciate all your service, and I know Ryan did as well.”

The council’s charter is set to expire in December. A spokesperson for the Interior Department said Bernhardt will make his decision before then.

While the Trump administration has not formally adopted any of the recommendations from the committee, conservationists have pointed to parallels between the group’s meeting topics and administrative actions. Following the International Wildlife Conservation Council’s last meeting in March that heavily discussed lion trophy imports, the Fish and Wildlife Service began granting the first lion trophy imports from Africa since lions were covered by the Endangered Species Act in 2016.

The International Wildlife Conservation Council is one of three heavily criticized federal advisory boards established under Zinke that some argue are stacked in favor of the industry’s they advise on. 

The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee — made up largely of people connected to groups that would benefit from National Park Service privatization — recommended in late September that privatizing campgrounds within national parks, limiting benefits for senior visitors and allowing food trucks were a way to bring more money into the park system.

The Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, established after the International Wildlife Conservation Council was chartered, has the mandate to advise on ways to “benefit recreational hunting and recreational shooting sports.” That group last met in March.