Trophy hunting has been on the front page and the opinion page and on television in the past week, after news broke that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made regulatory moves to overturn restrictions on the import of African elephants and African lions. There was a jolt of additional news after President Trump signaled in two tweets that he didn’t like the decisions one bit. As I’ve said in the press, and on this blog, the president’s action is tremendously good news.
There’s also been some good news for America’s lions — mountain lions (also known as cougars) — in the state of California.
The U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit, in a unanimous decision, upheld the State of California’s ban on not only killing mountain lions for trophies, but also on importing mountain lions killed in other states. Voters approved Proposition 117 in 1990, to codify a long-standing moratorium on lion hunting that had first been imposed by then Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972. Safari Club International (SCI) belatedly challenged Prop 117 in 2014, claiming that one part of the law violated interstate commerce and equal protection laws, after the California Fish and Game Commission ousted one of its own for going to Idaho and shooting a lion in order to import it to California, even though that practice was forbidden under Proposition 117.
The HSUS and the Fund for Animals submitted amicus curiae briefs both in the lower court and in the Ninth Circuit, arguing that all of the features of Prop 117, including the import ban, were constitutionally sound. The federal appeals court agreed.
The Ninth Circuit took particular issue with the way that SCI calculated the animal protection law’s supposed harm to the public. SCI alleged that, since a small percentage of its members would plan to engage in trophy hunting of mountain lions outside of California, this must mean that thousands of Californians would also be interested in doing so. But the court quickly shot down this claim, finding no reason to believe that this “small percentage of a specialty group” is representative of all hunters in California, let alone all Californians.
States that still allow trophy hunting of mountain lions frequently utilize cruel and unsporting hunting methods, such as trapping and hounding — practices that even many hunters oppose as antithetical to the principle of fair chase. And despite widespread public opposition to the inhumane and needless killing of majestic wildlife, these great cats are subject to extreme persecution; trophy hunters have killed 29,000 mountain lions in the United States in the last decade alone, and 78,000 in the last two decades.
Prop 117 is a model for other states to adopt. In fact, just a month ago The HSUS, along with a coalition of organizations now totaling over 80, launched a ballot initiative in Arizona to stop the cruel and unnecessary trophy hunting of mountain lions, as well as the trapping and killing of other native cats. As in other states, mountain lions in Arizona are frequently killed with the aid of high-tech telemetry equipment and packs of dogs, sometimes pitting the animals in violent combat, in order to shoot the lion at close range.
The affirmation of California’s mountain lion law builds on the momentum for animal protection and specifically for the movement against trophy hunting. With the president’s declaration that trophy hunting of elephants and other animals is a “horror show,” with provincial leaders in British Columbia pledging to bar the trophy hunting of grizzly bears, with New Jersey’s incoming governor saying he’ll place a moratorium on the black bear hunt there, and with the Arizona lion protection ballot measure on the horizon, we are seeing the makings of progress on many fronts and the long overdue recognition that killing animals just for their heads is an abomination worthy of our strongest disapproval and serious-minded legal reform.