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Lion Hunters Fighting Trophy Ban on 9th Life

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A federal judge gave a hunting club two weeks to amend its lawsuit challenging California's ban on importing, transporting and possessing mountain lions hunted outside of the state.

Senior U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. on Jan. 6 dismissed Safari Club International's lawsuit against the California attorney general, but gave it 14 days to file an amended claims.

Mountain lions became a "specially protected species" in California with the passage of Proposition 117 in 1990, making mountain lion hunting illegal in the state.

The designation has nothing to do with the mountain lions' relative abundance nor does it imply that they are rare, according to the co-defendant California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Safari Club International claimed that the law - which also bans importation, transportation and possession of mountain lions hunted outside of the state - violates the Constitution's Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Judge Burrell dismissed the claims on Wednesday, finding the hunting club did not provide any evidence to "undermine the legitimacy of California's interest in preventing cruelty to mountain lions."

Whether voters considered prevention of animal cruelty when they approved the law "is immaterial since '[i]t is entirely irrelevant for constitutional purposes whether the conceived reason for the challenged distinction actually motivated the legislature," Burrell wrote.

The judge also rejected the hunters' argument that the import ban is arbitrary because California allows hunting of other protected and unprotected animals without restrictions on importation, transportation and possession within the state.

"California's allowance of similar hunting methods employed against other animals is not sufficient to defeat rational basis review since 'reform may take one step at a time' to prevent perceived harm," Burrell wrote.

The hunters also claim the law places a substantial burden on interstate commerce that outweighs the "illusory and tenuous local interests purportedly served by the import ban."

But Burrell found that the hunters did not show "that the hunting of mountain lions and showcasing them as trophies is 'inherently national' nor that it requires a 'uniform system of regulation.'"

Although the hunters claim lost profits from the import ban, that is not enough to show that the ban places a significant burden on interstate commerce, the judge said.

Neither party immediately responded to emailed requests for comment on Thursday.

In more lion news , animal rights activists won a victory in December when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed two lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. Panthera leo leo, which lives in India and western and central Africa, will be listed as endangered, and Panthera leo malanochaita, of eastern and southern Africa, will be listed as threatened.

New U.S. rules taking effect on Jan. 22 require anyone who wants to import lion trophies from certain parts of Africa to have a U.S. import permit, in addition to a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species export permit.

The permitting mechanism is intended to support and strengthen the accountability of lion management programs in other nations, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said.

"The lion is one of the planet's most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage," Ashe said. "If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us - not just the people of Africa and India - to take action."

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