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.

“I know [former Secretary] Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again 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 TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC 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.