The Truth About SCI’s Elephant Importation Lawsuit
By: Anna Seidman
Over the past several months, SCI has aggressively pursued litigation against the federal government, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to ban the importation of sport-hunted elephants from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
The suit has already seen many twists and turns, and SCI has adapted its case to respond to each one. After months of teasing the hunting community with the possibility that the federal government might lift the importation ban for Zimbabwe, the FWS issued a decision on July 22, 2014 to continue the ban. This disappointing action required that SCI modify its existing case. Now, SCI has not one but two Zimbabwe decisions to challenge: 1) the original, so-called “temporary” ban implemented on April 4th; and 2) the new “final” decision made on July 22, 2014. SCI has already amended the Complaint filed in the case to add new claims that challenge the recent decision for Zimbabwe.
SCI, together with the NRA, are the only hunting organizations that have gone to court to challenge the importation bans for Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Some other groups and individuals, who also represent the hunting community, have publicly attacked SCI’s lawsuit for a variety of reasons. SCI would like to set the record straight.
1. Do the critics of SCI’s lawsuit really disagree with it?
Not at all. In fact, in private discussions and e-mails to SCI personnel, these critics, including leaders of these other organizations, have sup-ported the lawsuit and have taken advantage of its benefits. For example, a recent comment letter that one of the critics sent to the FWS, purportedly providing “new” information for the FWS to consider as a reason to lift the bans, relied on and attached multiple declarations that SCI had generated and filed with the Court for the lawsuit (without accrediting SCI for the in-formation).
2. Has the lawsuit been “predictably stalling and failing” as some critics have claimed?
No. If anything, SCI’s case has been moving forward more rapidly than any other case SCI has pursued. Although we have not had immediate success, lawsuits rarely achieve “quick fixes.” SCI moved for a preliminary injunction, asking the District Court to immediately lift the bans for the duration of the lawsuit. The District Court denied that request and SCI expeditiously appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court granted our request for expedited review and a hearing has already been scheduled.
Instead of failing, our suit has already achieved some success. In addition to persuading the Court of Appeals to give us rapid attention, we have succeeded in forcing the FWS to produce all the documents that they relied on in making their illegal importation ban decisions. The FWS attempted to avoid this obligation, but SCI persuaded the Court to order the record production. These documents will help SCI and others demonstrate the failings and inadequacies of the import ban decisions.
In addition, as mentioned above, as soon as the FWS announced their “final” decision not to lift the ban for Zimbabwe’s elephants, SCI amended its complaint to incorporate new claims that challenge the FWS’s latest illegal actions.
3. Will there be any reason for SCI to pursue this lawsuit if SCI doesn’t get a ruling before December 31, 2014?
Definitely. While the current importation bans apply only through 2014, the court, in response to our legal challenges, might be able to fashion some retroactive relief that would allow elephants hunted in 2014 to be imported. In addition, the FWS likely will renew its bans for 2015 unless the legal landscape changes or it receives new information between now and 2015 to influence its determinations. If the FWS renews the bans for 2015, SCI will amend its lawsuit to challenge those bans and will use everything it learned and gained as a result of the existing law-suit to challenge future bans.
If the FWS is able to maintain the 2014 elephant importation bans for Zimbabwe and Tanzania, it will have free rein to use the same tools and tactics to ban importation of elephants and other species in the future. SCI’s lawsuit challenges portions of the decision-making process that the FWS has used and could use again to manipulate our members’ and other hunters’ abilities to import their trophies in the future. In addition to addressing the elephant problem, our lawsuit is aimed at improving the bigger picture for the importation of sport-hunted wildlife for the long-term.
4. Has SCI focused exclusively on litigation to challenge the importation bans?
Certainly not. To the contrary, we have worked with the countries and their management authorities to make certain that the FWS received the data and explanations directly from the source of the most current and accurate information. In this way, the FWS cannot assert it lacks the information needed to make these determinations. We have also reviewed the information on which the FWS relied for its April 4, 2014 decision and have identified flaws and inaccuracies in that information. We have provided the FWS with numerous statements from individuals with on-the-ground knowledge of the role that hunters and hunting play in elephant conservation in the two countries, as well as the harms that the importation bans will inflict on anti-poaching efforts, habitat improvement, and community participation in the protection of elephants.
5. Does SCI intend to criticize others for their failure to join SCI in litigation against the bans?
No. Although SCI is disappointed in other groups and individuals who are using the elephant importation bans to fracture the hunting community, SCI knows full well that when our freedoms to hunt and to import what we hunt are attacked from the outside, our best defense is to work together to fight against those attacks. The divisiveness makes us weaker against our enemies. SCI intends to continue to work with and on behalf of the entire international hunting community to battle against these and potential future importation bans.