Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 23, 2019


Contact: Tanya Sanerib, (206) 379-7363,

Court Rejects Trump Administration Efforts to Shield Unlawful Trophy-hunting Council

NEW YORK— A federal district court in New York this morning rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Department of the Interior’s International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory body composed primarily of trophy-hunting profiteers and firearm manufacturers.

“The court’s ruling is a clear rejection of the government’s attempt to shield the trophy hunting council it created illegally, stacking it with big game profiteers and holding meetings behind closed doors,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn. “IWCC members are already benefiting from the Trump administration's rush to declare open season on the world's lions, rhinos and other imperiled species, and we will press forward in our efforts to shut down this illegal committee for good."

Democracy Forward is representing the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International in the lawsuit.

“With a million species threatened with extinction, many within decades, the Trump administration’s devotion to this council is shameful,” said Zak Smith, international wildlife conservation director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The court’s ruling allows us to continue challenging the illegal creation and operation of the IWCC and advance the cause of endangered species that desperately need protection, not bullets.”

Federal law requires government advisory panels to be in the public interest, fairly balanced, and protected against improper influence by special interests. In a nearly full denial of the administration’s motion to dismiss, the court agreed that plaintiffs had stated legally valid arguments, including the argument that “[The administration] did not provide a reasoned explanation for the Council's creation.”

“We think this thrill-kill council is illegal, and this ruling will allow us to air the majority of our concerns,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to protect elephants and other imperiled wildlife, trophy hunters can’t be the Trump administration’s only advisors on foreign trophy hunting policy.”

The court also found that the case could proceed to address concerns regarding the unfair membership of the council; the secret meetings of the council; and its failure to provide certain information to the public.

“We are pleased that Judge Nathan has rejected the federal government’s attempt to keep us out of court to debate the merits of letting the trophy hunting industry advise FWS on international wildlife trade policy,” said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society of the United States. “We look forward to advancing our legal arguments as to why the IWCC violates federal law and is contrary to endangered species conservation.”

Former Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created the IWCC in November 2017 with a mission of promoting the benefits of international trophy hunting. Trump's Interior Department rejected all nominations from conservation, public-interest or science groups, and instead stacked the council with friendly political donors, firearm manufacturers, and advocates for trophy hunting, many of whom stand to benefit.

Recent reports revealed that John Jackson — a member of the IWCC — represents hunters who the Department of the Interior permitted to import a lion and a black rhino killed in Tanzania and Namibia respectively. In a congressional hearing on July 18, Chairman Jared Huffman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife referred to the IWCC as a “sham advisory committee” and noted that “clearly the administration doesn’t consider itself bound by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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