An order forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite the processing of elephant trophy import permit applications amid the Covid-19 pandemic would be “unwise” and “not in the public interest,” a Washington federal court ruled Thursday.
Hunting and tourism organizations and individual elephant sport hunters failed to show the agency’s inaction is causing them irreparable harm, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The groups’ delay in seeking a preliminary injunction also shows a lack of urgency.
FWS is required to make an enhancement finding and issue an Endangered Species Act permit before an African elephant trophy import permit is approved, according to the lawsuit. Some import permits also require a non-detriment finding and a permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The groups say no elephant import permit from any country has been issued since President Donald Trump tweeted in November that big game trophy decisions were “on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts.” Trump later referred to big game hunting as a “horror show.”
The court said two hunters, Larry Cheek and Donald Moritz, lack standing in the case because neither have a pending import permit application. As to the remaining hunters, Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled their emotional injuries don’t rise to the level of irreparable harm.
The hunters argued the Service’s delay has caused “great anguish” because they can’t bring their trophies back from the hunt, and they don’t know when, if ever, the applications will be processed. The court said while their disappointment is understandable, delay was always a possibility.
The hunters argue they have also suffered economic harm both from the costs of hunting the elephant, storing the trophies abroad, and from the risk of loss due to theft.
First, the court said costs related to hunting the elephants were sustained before any delay in receiving the permit and couldn’t have been caused by any action on behalf of FWS. Second, none of the hunters claim to be paying additional costs for storing the trophy. And finally, the speculative threat of theft isn’t enough to show a “clear and present need for equitable relief.”
The Dallas Safari Club, Namibian Ministry of the Environment and Tourism, and Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations said the agency’s delay in processing applications will decrease the popularity of sport hunting in Africa and shrink funding for conservation efforts.
The court disagreed, saying the groups “fall well short of supporting their claims with proof.” None of the organizations claimed, or provided evidence to show, that the anticipated loss in revenue will threaten their operations.
Bergstrom Attorneys represents the organizations and the hunters.
The U.S. Department of Justice represents the federal government.
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The case is Dallas Safari Club v. Bernhardt, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-03696, 4/9/20.