SCI’s Seminar on the Recent African Lion Listing Provided Insight into the Future of Lion Importation

older-male-lion

Male-lion-head-onOn February 6, 2016, Safari Club International held an informational seminar at its Convention about the recent African lion Endangered Species Act listing. The seminar, entitled “What Were They Thinking? – the African Lion Rule,” gave SCI members a chance to learn about recent developments concerning importing legally hunted lions from Africa. With rumors swirling through the hunting community about if and when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will authorize importation from any of the African countries in which lions can be hunted, SCI’s Government Affairs Department provided SCI members with a clear description of what we currently do and do not know about the FWS’s intentions. Chip Burkhalter, Director of Government Relations, and Anna Seidman, Director of Litigation, delivered the presentation.

The seminar opened with the brief explanation that, on January 22, 2016, the FWS implemented a final rule that divides the African lion into two separate subspecies and classifies those lions under the ESA. As of that date, the subspecies of lions in central and western Africa are listed as endangered and the subspecies of lions in eastern and southern Africa are listed as threatened. The FWS also adopted a second, related rule applicable to those lions classified as threatened. Under this rule, a permit will be required to import any African lion into the United States that was harvested on or after January 22, 2016. For the importation of lions successfully hunted prior to that date, no permit should be required but the hunter/importer will need to document the date the lion was harvested.

The presenters explained that, as a prerequisite to granting permit applications, the FWS must make findings that the hunting of African lions enhances the survival of the species. Generally, the FWS makes such findings on a country-by-country basis. The presenters informed the audience that, to date, the FWS has made no enhancement finding for any African country. In fact, the FWS waited until the SCI Convention, at meetings between the FWS and representatives of affected African countries, to seek the information the FWS claims to need to make such findings. The Conservation Department of the SCI Foundation arranged these meetings.

The presenters explained how decisions that may be made at the CITES Conference of the Parties, to be held in South Africa this fall, could also impact the ability of U.S. hunters to import lions from Africa.

The seminar discussion also focused briefly on the potential ramifications of a new Director’s Order issued by FWS Director Dan Ashe. This Order directs FWS personnel to deny import permits to individuals who have previously committed wildlife and/or hunting law violations. The Director’s Order applies not only to lion importation, but to the importation of all species for which permits are required. The FWS has not yet explained the scope of this Order and the impact it may have on import permit applicants.

The seminar closed with a discussion about potential strategies that SCI is and will employ to fight the restrictions that the new rules impose on those who wish to import lions and other foreign species into the United States.

Overall, the seminar provided some answers to member questions, but much is still unknown at this point. SCI will continue to seek more information and work to ensure that hunters have the ability to import African lions into the United States. Follow SCI’s blog and Crosshairs for periodic updates on our progress.

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