White House Folds Embattled Advisory Board on Trophy Hunting

MANHATTAN (CN) — Gratifying those who sued to get the panel disbanded, the Trump administration announced the demise of White House advisory board stacked with trophy-hunting advocates while purporting to promote wildlife conservation.

The International Wildlife Conservation Council had prompted a federal complaint in New York soon after its creation in late 2017, but lawyers for the government say that the recent expiration of the group’s two-year charter means there is no longer a live controversy.

This 2018 photo shows then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during a tour at Zion National Park in Utah. (Jeffrey D. Allred/The Deseret News via AP, File)

“Because the council no longer exists and did not make any recommendations, there is no meaningful relief the court could grant in response to plaintiffs’ claims related to the council’s formation, composition, ethics provision, or meetings, all of which are moot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Jude wrote in a motion to dismiss Friday. “And because defendants have already disclosed all council and subcommittee records, plaintiffs’ claims seeking records disclosure too are moot.”

Zak Smith, director of international wildlife conservation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted Monday that the challengers still seek information on the two years that the board was active.

“I have little doubt our litigation spurred the administration’s decision to abandon the IWCC and walk away from its biased and un-transparent practices,” Smith said in a statement. “We’re glad the Trump administration is closing shop on this ridiculously misguided council and we await a full accounting of its tainted work product.”

Lawyers for the conservationists at Democracy Forward echoed that stance.

“The IWCC’s disbandment is a huge victory in the fight against the Trump administration’s illegal advisory bodies,” Democracy Forward senior counsel Travis Annatoyn said Monday. “But the fight isn’t over.”

As alleged in their complaint, former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stacked the advisory board exclusively with representatives of the hunting, firearm and animal trade industries after accepting tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from the trophy-hunting industry.

The government asserted Friday that the board met just five times — the last of which occurred in October 2019 — and never voted on or made any recommendations to the Department of Interior.

“Each of these meetings was announced in advance by notice in the Federal Register and was open to and attended by members of the public,” the motion to dismiss states.

A representative for the Department of Interior said the agency will carry on its efforts to curtail unlawful wildlife trafficking after the expiration of the committee’s charter.

“The Department of the Interior takes illegal wildlife trafficking seriously and will continue working to grow our partnerships, while continuing to move toward shared conservation stewardship,” the spokesperson said.

In contrast to the government’s motion to dismiss, the wildlife conservationists have asked U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan for summary judgment.

Zinke was forced to resign in January 2019 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.

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