Since Trump took office, the Interior Department has downgraded, postponed, or simply killed dozens of advisory panels that for generations provided wise counsel from conservationists, scientists, politicians and various industry experts on everything from how to best run the national parks to smart environmental suggestions.
Now that the people who care about the environment and making America’s public lands available to all have mostly been purged, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has launched a new commission to promote something close to his heart and that of President Trump, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and some of their rich friends – big game trophy hunting.
At a time tourism to America is down because of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, the International Wildlife Conservation Council – at an annual cost of over $250,000 a year – it encourages rich and bored gun lovers to leave the U.S. and go hunt around the world.
It is designed to promote big-game trophy hunting and the “economic benefits from U.S. citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.”
It is charged, according to Mother Jones, “with making recommendations to Secretary Ryan Zinke about removing barriers to importing trophy hunting animals.” and laws covering endangered plant and animal species.
That includes elephants, on which the Trump administration recently removed barriers to importing as trophies after some the huge lumbering animals were murdered somewhere in the wilds of Africa, Asia or elsewhere,
When Trump first tried to make it legal to import dead elephants killed for sport, there was such a public outcry he had to rescind the order. So he waited a few months and did it anyway.
Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr., and his brother Eric are both avid hunters who were pictured proudly standing guns in hand over an elephant and a leopard they had killed.
The panel is also expected to find new ways to relax legal restrictions on hunting and importing a whole range of endangered species, like lions.
To comprise this new panel, Zinke has not turned to conservationists, serious scientists, or well-known animal experts.
Instead, the members of the commission include, according to Mother Jones, “a reality-TV safari hunting guide, a former beauty queen, gun industry representatives, members and affiliates of a controversial trophy hunting group, and a veterinarian associated with an exotic animal breeding facility in Florida that sells endangered animals to roadside zoos.”
“It’s really embarrassing,” Marsha Kalinina, the international trade policy specialist for the wildlife department at the Humane Society International told Mother Jones.
“I just question the qualifications of each and every one of these people,” she added. “Notably missing from this trophy hunting council are legitimate representatives of the conservation community with proper scientific credentials and a record of successful conservation, along with wildlife law enforcement experts and biologists who have no financial stake in promoting trophy hunting.”
The largest trophy hunting lobby in the U.S., however, is very well represented. At least ten of the 16 members of the panel are affiliated with the group, Safari Club International.
The group’s 50,000 members include many big game hunters who have a history of conflict with the Fish and Wildlife Service over permits to import animal trophies into the U.S., especially when the game is on the endangered species list.
Under Trump, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has – shocker – no appointed director and is being run by the deputy director, Greg Sheehan, who is also going to run the new panel.
At the Safari Club International’s convention in Las Vegas last month, Sheehan was on hand as it presented an award for “professional hunter of the year” to a South African who had recently been fined for killing an endangered black rhino.
Another Safari Club member, Mike Ingram, was a co-founder of a nonprofit set up in 2016 by Donald Jr. and Eric Trump but was shuttered after it was accused of selling access to the president.
Donald Jr. is not a member of the panel but seems to be close to it. When professional bowhunter Cameron Hanes announce his appointment to the new panel on Instagram, Donald Jr. wrote to him, “well done and well deserved. As I’ve spoken about numerous times @realdonaldtrump has always given opportunities to those who deserve it not just those whose turn it is.”
Apparently, Donald Jr. and Eric’s enthusiasm for killing exotic animals and then stuffing them for display is not universally popular.
In 2015, after Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, which was being studied by Oxford scientists, a Marist poll was taken that shows 90 percent of Americans are opposed to big game hunting, and over 60 percent want it banned completely.
You can read about the rest of the colorful trophy hunters on the panel in the Mother Jones article, but you can safely assume none would have ever been on any panel under President Obama.
The damage that President Trump is doing to America in so many ways sometimes blinds us to under-the-radar issues like his impact on the hunting of endangered species for sport.
Unlike some of his more damaging environmental policies, for instance, once these species are destroyed, there will be no way to repair the damage once wiser, saner officials are in charge.
Every day Trump is in office bring new horrors like this that may not fall under the purview of Special Counsel Robert Mueller but are still crimes against humanity.