Washington Report – Renewed Commitment

lobbyist-on-capitol-steps-300x200With yet another successful convention under our belt, your Washington team returned to the nation’s capital with renewed strength to pursue the hunters’ agenda. Our annual convention has become an increasing popular event with pro-hunting lawmakers, and last month’s report was filed too early to give you a comprehensive listing of the Members of Congress who took time from their busy schedules to join us in Las Vegas.

In addition to those listed in the February report, we were joined by U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and U.S. Representatives Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) Unfortunately, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was under the weather and couldn’t travel, but his spot is already reserved and waiting at our 2016 gathering.

Convention week was marked with two notable legislative developments. First, Rep. Young introduced H.R. 697, an important bill to reverse the arbitrary ban on elephant importation from Zimbabwe. The ban, which SCI is also challenging in court, is without scientific basis. Its net result thus far has been to dry up the influx of hunter dollars coming into the country, thus hindering legitimate elephant conservation efforts on the ground. Despite the fact that 800,000 families in Zimbabwe depend on the safari hunting industry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) bureaucracy freely admitted they instituted their ban without any basis in scientific data. This admission that “anecdotal evidence” was the basis for their decision summarizes the argument for repealing the ban immediately.

Young’s bill would also block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from turning hunters and gun owners into potential criminals overnight. On February 11, 2014, the Obama administration announced a proposal to ban all U.S. commercial trade in elephant ivory.  Much more recently, the White House released an “Implementation Plan” with more details – more on this later in the column.

For decades, the United States has generally banned the commercial importation of African elephant ivory other than antique items more than 100 years old; it also bans the commercial export of all raw ivory and strictly regulates export of worked ivory.

However, legally imported ivory may be sold within the U.S. because the Fish and Wildlife Service has long presumed that most ivory in the U.S. was legally imported and that its sale in the U.S. would not increase poaching. Under the new proposal, it would be illegal to sell any item that contains any amount of ivory and that is less than 100 years old. Even for items at least 100 years old, the burden of proof would be on the seller to show that the ivory is old enough, a task that would be challenging and expensive. SCI is prepared to work with Rep. Young to pass this important bill.

The second legislative development was the introduction of S. 405, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015. This important compendium of pro-hunting provisions has been passed by the House but blocked in the Senate for years. Now, with the election of several new pro-hunting Senators in 2014 and the resulting change in chamber leadership, the bill now has its best chance ever to be passed through both chambers of the Congress. SCI is committed to working for the passage of this important legislation in 2015.

firstforhunterselephantcloseupWith that busy week under our belt, another development would await your team in Washington.   A year to the day after President Obama issued a “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking,” the U.S. released its detailed plan to implement that strategy. The plan is typically vague, with sweeping statements that gloss over important details, but there are several parts of the plan that could go far beyond the proposed restrictions on hunters and hunting that have been discussed before.

The plan makes an ominous declaration that that U.S. government plans to “revise forfeiture regulations and streamline forfeiture appeal procedures to clarify and improve the processing of unlawful imported wildlife.” If implemented in a fair and objective fashion, such a proposal could benefit hunters who have experienced the bureaucratic snafu of having their trophies improperly blocked or forfeited upon entry. But somehow I suspect that the White House is not motivated by a concern to make life easier on international hunters.

The plan recommends new federal laws to strengthen the federal government’s authority and tools to investigate, deter and prosecute wildlife trafficking crimes. In addition, the plan recommends the use of executive orders and regulations to increase the penalties for those who engage in trafficking related crimes. One of those new regulations will limit the number of sport-hunted elephant trophies that an individual can import into the United States every year, although the actual number is not discussed. Of course, if the government can limit you to one, it can also limit you to none.

We have yet to see the details on any of these proposed rules and regulations. And of course, Congress will have its own say about the passage of any new laws. But it’s clear that the White House intends to keep your Washington team very busy throughout the final two years of the Obama administration.

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