Feds Must Face Suit Over Hunting Advisory Panel

MANHATTAN (CN) – The Department of Interior must face a lawsuit that skewers its administration of a secretive White House advisory committee on trophy hunting, a federal judge ruled.

Established in November 2017, the International Wildlife Conservation Council was chartered to advise the government on concerns both conservationist and economic related to U.S. citizens traveling abroad for hunting trips.

In their lawsuit last year, however, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups alleged that the council’s pro-hunting bend contravenes a 1972 law called the the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

Attorneys for the government sought to dismiss on the basis of jurisdiction, but U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan determined Friday that the challengers sufficiently alleged organizational standing.

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the council’s general lack of transparency has caused them to devote greater ‘attention, time, and personnel’ to monitoring the Council,” Nathan wrote.

Attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council at the firm Democracy Forward celebrated Monday. “The Court’s ruling is clear: The Trump administration has provided no reason for creating a trophy hunting council, stacking it with big game profiteers and operating it behind closed doors,” the firm said in statement Monday.

“IWCC members are already benefiting from the Trump administration’s rush to declare open season on the world’s lions, rhinos, and other species, and we will press forward in our efforts to shut down this illegal committee for good,” the watchdog group added.

Though she advanced three counts against the Interior Department entirely, Nathan did pare a fourth count in part, taking aim at a claim that FACA required the agency to produce materials prior to meetings.

“There may be instances in which certain particularly voluminous or technical documents would need to be provided prior to hearings to allow the public a genuine chance to follow the discussion,” the opinion states. “Here, however, plaintiffs have not alleged that failure to disseminate the relevant documents prior to the meetings prevented them or anyone from following the substance of the discussions.

Nathan scheduled a pretrial conference for Oct. 18.

In addition to the NRDC and Center For Biological Diversity, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States are co-plaintiffs.

Zinke resigned this past January amid souring relations with President Donald Trump and an ethics scandal arising from traveling arrangements he made for his wife with taxpayer money. In addition to several other accusations of ethical breaches during his time in the Trump administration, Zinke faced two inspector general inquiries from the Interior Department prior to his departure. Zinke was replaced by David Bernhardt, a former energy company lobbyist who previously worked as deputy secretary of the agency.

Representatives for the Department of Interior did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. 

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