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Monday, May 16, 2016

Will the Next Interior Secretary be a Trophy Hunter?

If Donald Trump, Jr. gets his way, there could be a slayer of elephants and leopards and other rare wildlife appointed as Secretary of Interior in his father's administration.

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The Environment & Energy Daily last week noted that candidate Donald Trump doesn’t claim to know much about hunting or the outdoors, and has largely deferred on those issues to his son, Donald Jr., who is organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The younger Trump mused that he would like to be Secretary of the Interior, and in a January interview with Petersen’s Hunting, said:

“So you can be assured that if I’m not directly involved I’m going to be that very, very loud voice in his ear. Between my brother, and myself no one understands the issues better than us. No one in politics lives the lifestyle more than us.”

Over seven and a half years of the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior has been perhaps the most active federal agency on animal welfare issues, actively restricting trophy hunting of some of the world’s most imperiled animals. 

What an appalling turnaround it would be to put the persecutors of wildlife in charge of U.S. policy on these issues.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut down imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Interior Department officials also listed African lions as threatened, dramatically restricting the imports of trophies from lions killed abroad at places like South African’s canned hunts.

This same agency also listed captive chimpanzees as endangered, leading to the end of chimps in laboratory experiments. They also classified eight species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese pythons and anacondas, as injurious under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the trade in these snakes as pets. The administration made wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching a priority issue, and proposed a rule to close loopholes in the U.S. ivory trade, the second largest retail market after China.

What will that record look like in the next administration, and what if it’s under President Trump?

Donald Jr. and his brother, Eric, made headlines for being involved in trophy hunting, posing with a dead leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures—even holding the tail of an elephant. The lifestyle they are living—spending their fortunes to travel the world and amass heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—is more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists.

It’s not an issue of partisanship, and no Republican or Democratic president is ever going to be perfect on animal issues. The Obama administration, while making a great deal of progress for wild animals on a broad range of subjects, also took several harmful policy actions, such as working to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzly bears and turn over management to hostile states.

But the risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at the top job at Interior, or having the ear of the president, is a real one. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

A Trump presidency could set the stage for rolling back wildlife protections and implementing policies to advance trophy hunting around the world and here at home. It’s something animal advocates should pay attention to as they evaluate the candidates. 

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