Americans expect their government to conduct its affairs with transparency and fairness, and certainly not in the manner of the proverbial smoke-filled backroom. That’s certainly our view, and that’s why we’ve consistently challenged attempts by the USDA and other federal agencies to withhold data and records relevant to animal welfare and related policy-making actions. It’s also why today, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, with a coalition of wildlife protection organizations, sued Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to disband the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) on the grounds that it is operating in violation of federal law.
Secretary Zinke has tasked the IWCC, wholly stocked by the USFWS with trophy hunters and firearms lobbyists, with “increasing public awareness domestically regarding the conservation, wildlife law enforcement, and economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.” The group could not be more biased and it’s precisely the sort of chummy influence peddling network that trophy hunters prefer, excluding as it does the critical and well-informed perspectives of conservation biologists, economists, and other experts who see trophy hunting and the pay-to-slay schemes of Safari Club International and associated organizations as a genuine menace to threatened and endangered wildlife.
This kind of political mischief was precisely what Congress had in mind when it enacted the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in 1972 to curb the executive branch’s reliance on secretive advisory committees. Prior to FACA, special interests used these committees—and their associated veneer of governmental legitimacy—to shape and control federal policy beyond and outside the light of public scrutiny, participation, and debate.
But FACA requires that an advisory committee only be established when it is “essential to the conduct of agency business” and “in the public interest,” and in such circumstances the law requires that advisory committees be “fairly balanced” and not be “inappropriately influenced” by special interests. Here, the IWCC fails on every count.
Most conspicuously, Secretary Zinke established the IWCC without including biologists or other experts in global conservation policy whose views diverge from that of the trophy hunting fraternity. The sum is this: at a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces significant budget cuts in Congress, the agency has allocated a $250,000 annual budget for gathering wealthy trophy hunters in a room to discuss deregulation of their hobby, one that’s disdained by the majority of American taxpayers and rightfully challenged by experts on the claim of its value to communities and conservation.
Today’s lawsuit seeks to ensure that federal wildlife policy is based on sound conservation science. This was the basis of the lawsuit we filed earlier this year over the government’s decision to authorize imports of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, and it is a principle of deep faith with all of us at The HSUS and HSI. In many of the decisions it has taken concerning wildlife (and other animals) over the last year, our federal government has repeatedly violated this principle. These are critical and important battles, and you can count on us to bring our best energy and thought to the fight to save threatened and endangered animals in the face of such dangers to their well-being and survival.