Just funding “conservation” is not enough, absent evidence that elephants benefit
WASHINGTON D.C.––The claim that shooting elephants in Zimbabwe helps to save them no longer stands up in U.S. federal court, even if the money hunters pay to kill the elephants is nominally spent for “conservation,” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled on September 30, 2016.
Money isn’t everything, judge says
“Plaintiffs would have the agency focus only on whether sport-hunting generates revenue for species conservation and whether the presence of hunters deters poaching,” wrote Lamberth. “But these factors address only the first part of the inquiry,” as to whether trophy hunting helps elephants, “and taken as true, they would always result in a positive enhancement finding.”
In determining whether hunting trophies from endangered or threatened species may be legally imported, Lamberth ruled, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must examine “not only whether these factors exist but their effect on the species as a whole: whether fees generated by U.S. hunters are in fact being used to promote conservation and how they are being used under the [foreign] government’s management plan and sport hunting program, whether their use is improving the species’ prospects for survival into the future, and how the species would fare if U.S. hunters could not import trophies.”
Verdict overlooked amid CITES hoopla
Overshadowed by 12 days of high-stakes diplomacy on behalf of African elephants underway simultaneously at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species triennial meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Lamberth verdict struck at the economic presumptions underpinning the model of hunter-funded conservation which has long dominated wildlife management worldwide.
Yet the Lamberth verdict for nearly two weeks went almost unnoticed by animal advocacy organizations and news media, mentioned only by Stan Parker of Law360, Rose Bouboushian of Courthouse News Service, and Safari Club International, one of the two plaintiffs, along with the National Rifle Association, whose claims Lamberth largely rejected.
Safari Club & the NRA
Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association sought unsuccessfully to overturn U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision to ban imports of Zimbabwe elephant trophies from the U.S. because Zimbabwe could not demonstrate adequately how trophy hunting improves the odds that African elephants will survive as a species.
The Lamberth verdict may have been overlooked in part because it pertained to several relatively technical legal issues. But the bottom line question, “Who gets the money?” for shooting an elephant, should have been clear enough.
Explained Parker, “Lamberth granted summary judgment to the government on most of its assertions that it had followed the Administrative Procedure Act when determining that sport hunting in Zimbabwe would not enhance the survival of the elephants, a requisite condition for allowing such imports under a special rule that the Fish & Wildlife Service enacted in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act.
“The hunters had argued,” Parker wrote, “that if the Fish & Wildlife Service wanted to ban the imports, it needed to make an ‘affirmative finding’ that sport hunting in the country would not aid the species’ survival, not simply that the regulator ‘lacked’ information to conclude so.”
Retroactive trophy import ban
Rejecting several Safari Club and National Rifle Association procedural arguments, Lamberth “also ruled that just because trophy hunting generates revenue for conservation purposes and deters poaching in specific instances does not show enhancement of the species as a whole ‘without a showing that a government is properly using funds and protecting the species more broadly,’” summarized Parker.
“The Fish & Wildlife Service had first announced that it would suspend trophy imports from Zimbabwe in April 2014,” Parker added. “The service expressed concern about the management, funding and resources of wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe, noting a lack of data on the population numbers [of elephants] in the country, according to Friday’s opinion.
“The service first published notice of that interim suspension in the Federal Register on May 12, 2014,” Parker explained, “but said the suspension would be effective dating back to elephants that were killed on or after April 4, 2014.”
The one major point that Judge Lamberth conceded to Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association was that the Fish & Wildlife Service should not have backdated the suspension of elephant trophy imports by about a month. Some U.S. hunters shot elephants in Zimbabwe while importing trophy parts remained legal, only to find that as result of the backdating, the trophy parts were excluded.
“Deferred to agency’s conclusions”
Said Safari Club International and National Rifle Association in a posted joint statement, “The court [Lamberth] devoted much of its 56-page opinion to the substance of the Fish & Wildlife Service decision to end importation and largely deferred to the agency’s conclusions. The court upheld the Fish & Wildlife Service’s assertion that in 2014 and 2015 the information about Zimbabwe’s elephant population estimates and management strategies were out of date and it was less than certain that revenues from hunting were being directed toward conservation. Aspects of the judge’s rulings did not come as a surprise to SCI and NRA,” the organizations said, “as they were consistent with rulings Judge Lamberth made on previous cases involving the importation of elephants from Mozambique and Zambia.”
Safari Club International & NRA may appeal
Continued the Safari Club International and National Rifle Association joint statement, “Judge Lamberth’s ruling is not necessarily the end of the Zimbabwe elephant importation ban story. SCI and NRA now have approximately two months to review the decision. We will analyze the potential benefits and risks of appealing.”
Appointed to the U.S. federal bench by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Lamberth, 73, was formerly chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, but retired in July 2013 to handle a reduced caseload, divided between Washington D.C. and his home in San Antonio, Texas.
Verdict underscores CAMPFIRE failure
The Lamberth verdict of September 30, 2016 further underscored the failure of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources, CAMPFIRE for short, touted by Safari Club International and promoted by a succession of U.S. governments as a way for Zimbabwe to make wildlife conservation pay for itself.
Initially CAMPFIRE was funded by USAid in connection with a package of political trade-offs which in 1989 won the international embargo on trade in elephant ivory that the 2014 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ban on elephant trophy imports was introduced to help enforce.
From 1989 through 2004, when the subsidies ended, largely because of accountability issues, USAid pumped more than $40 million into CAMPFIRE. CAMPFIRE raised about $2.5 million per year in revenue during those years, more than 90% of it from hunting.