Members of a new Trump administration pro-hunting council met Friday for the first time, drawing objections from other conservation groups that say hunting is not the answer to saving big game species.
Hunters and supporters of trophy hunting hold nearly every seat on the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created to advise him on “the conservation, wildlife law enforcement, and economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.”
Several members spoke in favor on Friday of trophy hunting in certain regions of Africa and Central Asia, saying it provides important funding for conversation efforts.
“Hunting is the crux of all of this. Without hunting, there is no other industry there,” said member Cameron Hanes, a member of the council who’s a bow hunter. “The messaging is what’s poor. To me, hunters haven’t done a very good job of it.”
Conservationists who oppose trophy hunting say the panel is one-sided. Most appointees belong to Safari Club International, a pro-hunting group that gives awards for trophy animal kills, and the National Rifle Association, according to the Associated Press, with one even serving as president of the Safari Club.
“Noticeably missing from this council are qualified representatives of the broader conservation community with scientific credentials and direct experience with the management of successful conservation programs,” said Masha Kalinina of Humane Society International.
She spoke during a portion of the meeting reserved for public comment; her group is not represented on the council.
Peter LaFontaine, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said he had nominated a member for the council who was not accepted. The group is a “really strange way to focus on conservation,” he said.
Members selected as their chairman Bill Brewster, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma. A 2014 profile of Brewster in the NRA publication American Hunter notes he has hunted in all 50 states.
“There is a conspicuous conflict of interest concern hanging over this council,” Kalinina said. The businesses of many members, she said, would benefit from relaxed regulations on hunting, such as imports of trophies like African elephants and lions.
The issue of trophy hunting was cast in the spotlight in November, when the Fish and Wildlife Service under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke decided to overturn an Obama-era ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia to the U.S.
After the issue made headlines, President Donald Trump announced he was putting the decision “on hold” to review the “conservation facts.” He later called trophy hunting a “horror show.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Interior reacted to a court order by saying it will consider big game trophy imports from several African countries on a “case-by-case” basis.
The department has not yet issued any trophy permits under that policy, Zinke told Congress at a hearing this week.