There has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the selection of hunters to serve on the Department of Interior's newly-formed International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC). The council was established last November to be under the purview of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Council was created with the following goals in mind: to increase "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." Moreover, members of the IWCC will advise Interior Secretary Zinke "on the benefits international hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation, anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking programs, and other ways in which international hunting benefits human populations in these areas." More goals are listed here.
Prominent members of this newly established council include Safari Club International (SCI) president Paul Babaz, professional bowhunter Cameron Hanes, lobbyist and NRA director of hunting Erica Rhoad, Congressional Sportsman Foundation vice president Gary Kania, former Congressman Bill Brewster (D-OK), and others. Two non-hunters who'll serve on the IWCC include former Atlanta zoo director and co-author of “A Contract with the Earth” (with Newt Gingrich) Terry Maple and zoo/wildlife veterinarian professor Jenifer Chatfield. All council members will serve three-year terms.
The council won't compensate its members, but will have a budget of $250,000 in taxpayer funds to be disbursed for "travel expenses, staff time and other costs."
Following the establishment of this council, various so-called conservation groups railed against the IWCC. One group, the Africa Wildlife Foundation, issued this troubling statement objecting to the council's creation citing the presence of trophy hunters.
The Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDF) falsely suggested the IWCC exists to exclusively promote "the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport." (Leo DiCaprio is one of their Board of Trustees, so take their statement with a grain of salt.)
The Humane Society called the IWCC a "trophy hunting trade association masquerading as a public panel." This is the same Humane Society that deliberately deceives its donors into thinking they are supporting animal welfare, when in fact, the opposite is true.
To add insult to injury, these various so-called conservation groups either receive huge financial backing from Democrats or oppose hunting altogether. They aren't exactly helping their cause with this fierce opposition to the IWCC.
The Associated Press, for example, had to issue a correction regarding one appointee to the council. It reads as follows:
In a March 15 story about a new U.S. advisory board created to help rewrite federal rules for importing body parts of certain animals killed in Africa, The Associated Press reported erroneously that appointee Olivia Opre had previously killed a black rhino and was a Miss America contestant. Opre says she shot a white rhino with a non-lethal tranquilizer dart, but has not killed a black rhino, and says she competed in the Mrs. America pageant, not the Miss America pageant.
Here's council member Paul Babaz's account of the IWCC's first meeting from March 16th, which he describes in the following Facebook post:
Hunting—including "trophy hunting"— is grossly misunderstood by those in media, government, and entertainment. The early conservation movement established by Theodore Roosevelt and other American conservationists has sadly been co-opted by radical environmentalist groups who generally refuse to meet anglers and hunters at the table to discuss ways to work together. Granted there are few exceptions, but our way of life is generally met with hostility by those involved in the aforementioned groups.
Arguably, the attacks on hunting and the hunting lifestyle have led many Americans to forgo or abandon hunting altogether, which is a big concern for those of us involved in the outdoor industry. The loss of two million hunters since 2011 is alarming, which is why this council and a similar council — Council for Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation — were created. It's also why R3—Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation—initiatives have been developed to directly address the issue of participation in hunting and shooting sports.
Hunting and shooting sports bolster the economy, which then bolsters wildlife
As recent as February 2018, outdoor recreation—including fishing and hunting activities—accounted for $373 billion (or two percent of the GDP) of the American economy.
The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to cooperate with the States, through their respective State fish and game departments, in wildlife- restoration projects as hereinafter in this chapter set forth; but no money apportioned under this chapter to any State shall be expended therein until its legislature, or other State agency authorized by the State constitution to make laws governing the conservation of wildlife, shall have assented to the provision of this chapter and shall have passed laws for the conservation of wildlife which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said State fish and game department, except that, until the final adjournment of the first regular session of the legislature held after September 2, 1937, the assent of the Governor of the State shall be sufficient. The Secretary of the Interior and the State fish and game department of each State accepting the benefits of this chapter, shall agree upon the wildlife-restoration projects to be aided in such State under the terms of this chapter and all projects shall conform to the standards fixed by the Secretary of the Interior.
Since the introduction of this law, an 11 percent excise tax is imposed on purchases related to licenses, firearms, and ammunition to be circled back to the Department of Interior. Then the DOI allocates funds to pay for state-sponsored wildlife restoration projects.
As the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) notes, wildlife like wild turkey, white-tailed deer, wood duck, and black bear were able to repopulate "through wildlife restoration projects mostly paid for through Pittman-Robertson and state hunting license funds." Groups like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and a whole host of other conservation groups directly support sustainable efforts to bolster wildlife all the while supporting legal hunting. To deny their contributions to wildlife and habitat restoration efforts is an affront to true conservation efforts—a fact many of these so-called conservation groups deny.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), firearms and ammunition industry pumped back $51.3 billion into the economy in 2016.
The same applies when hunters and anglers pay for trips abroad. While the species usually entailed are more exotic and controversial different conditions, circumstances, and environmental factors impact locals differently than they do in the United States. If Americans support local African economies and help combat poaching efforts, shouldn't the other conservation groups applaud their efforts? Sadly, they won't.
Hunting as conservation here and abroad.
The IWCC argues the principles established by the North American Conservation Model in America can similarly be applied in Africa.
The North American Conservation Model has led to "the form, function, and successes of wildlife conservation and management" in the United States and Canada. It boasts the following tenets:
1. Wildlife resources are a public trust*. Challenges include (1) inappropriate claims of ownership of wildlife; (2) unregulated commercial sale of live wildlife; (3) prohibitions or unreasonable restrictions on access to and use of wildlife; and (4) a value system endorsing an animal-rights doctrine and consequently antithetical to the premise of public ownership of wildlife.*
2. Markets for game are eliminated*. Commercial trade exists for reptiles, amphibians, and fish. In addition, some game species are actively traded. A robust market for access to wildlife occurring across the country exists in the form of leases, reserved permits, and shooting preserves.*
3. Allocation of wildlife is by law*. Application and enforcement of laws to all taxa are inconsistent. Although state authority over the allocation of the take of resident game species is well defined, county, local, or housing development ordinances may effectively supersede state authority. Decisions on land use, even on public lands, indirectly impact allocation of wildlife due to land use changes associated with land development.*
4. Wildlife can be killed only for a legitimate purpose*. Take of certain species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians does not correspond to traditionally accepted notions of legitimate use.*
5. Wildlife is considered an international resource. Many positive agreements and cooperative efforts have been established among the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and other nations for conserving wildlife. Many more species need consideration. Restrictive permitting procedures, although designed to protect wildlife resources, inhibit trans-border collaborations. Construction of a wall to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. will have negative effects on trans-border wildlife movements and interactions.
6. Science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy*. Wildlife management appears to be increasingly politicized. The rapid turnover rate of state agency directors, the makeup of boards and commissions, the organizational structure of some agencies, and examples of politics meddling in science have challenged the science foundation.*
7. Democracy of hunting is standard*. Reduction in, and access to, huntable lands compromise the principle of egalitarianism in hunting opportunity. Restrictive firearms legislation can act as a barrier hindering participation.*
Without a doubt, the discussion of "trophy hunting" in Africa can cause great anger and confusion among Americans. As I wrote before here at The Resurgent, what constitutes a "trophy" varies from hunter to hunter. Moreover, conversations about conservation gloss over hunting's big impact on it—due to the influence of preservationist attitudes inset in the conservation movement. Additionally, Africa boasts different threats and challenges from poaching, threats, and corrupt governments, which is why controlled legal hunts of certain "Big Five" animals happen despite its controversial nature.
For example, the "Trophy" filmmakers conceded in their film that controlled trophy hunting in Africa will led to a regeneration of threatened species. Even Huffington Post writer and anti-hunter Yashar Ali conceded that the legal, controlled killing of elephants in Africa is more preferable to poachers exterminating elephants en masse.
Here's a great account on the nuanced nature of trophy hunting in Africa from Slate's Neel V. Patel:
It’s understandable to find the practice of hunting elephants for sport repulsive. It's also understandable to be suspicious of this change given everything happening in politics right now. But these loud missives don’t do justice to the nuanced factors that go into developing and implementing conservation efforts. When you considered the facts on the ground, lifting restrictions on elephant trophy bans isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In fact, it could be a good idea.
It’s true that the opening of trophy imports will probably encourage more legal hunting. That’s actually the point. Hunting is not an inherently bad thing for animal conservation. When hunting is legal and well-regulated, it can actually help keep animal populations in check and prevent them from overwhelming an ecosystem. That’s precisely why hunting white-tailed deer is encouraged during hunting season in much of the U.S.
Now, African elephant populations don’t resemble white-tailed deer in North America. Deer are much more populous, and faster to reproduce. But it’s important to note that elephant populations are not in the dire straits they once were. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the African elephant species as “vulnerable,” not endangered, meaning population numbers or habitat range are less than satisfactory but can improve if measures are taken. One of those measures could be controlled hunting that shaves off individual numbers in the short term to create a bigger population growth in the long term.
Hunters, much like other conservationists, deserve to serve on the IWCC. Their efforts directly support wildlife and habitat restoration efforts. What can be said for groups like NRDC, Sierra Club, Humane Society, and others? Not much. They talk a big talk, but don't walk the walk with respect to conservation.
We will continue to document developments from the IWCC and explore the nuances of "trophy hunting" here and aboard while countering misinformation related to hunting, fishing, and shooting sports. Stay tuned.