By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration has quietly abandoned a wildlife advisory board that animal rights groups said was illegally stacked with politically connected donors and hunting enthusiasts, and designed to promote trophy hunting.
In a Friday night court filing, the U.S. Department of Justice said the International Wildlife Conservation Council “ceased to exist” on Dec. 21, 2019, when its two-year charter expired.
It also said the board made no recommendations during its existence, and there were no plans to establish another board with a similar mission or scope.
Ryan Zinke, who had been Interior Secretary, created the board in November 2017, saying it would advise on the benefits of recreational hunting, including “boosting economies” and creating hundreds of jobs to enhance wildlife conservation.
The Justice Department said the board’s demise mooted and justified the dismissal of an August 2018 lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International against its composition and mission.
Travis Annatoyn, a lawyer for the groups, said in a Monday interview that the lawsuit is not moot, and the groups will seek an injunction against implementing the board’s work.
He called the board’s demise “a blow against Interior’s pattern of outsourcing policymaking to vested interests close to the administration.”
“Interior cannot rely on unrepresentative, clandestine advisory committees to funnel unpopular policy positions directly to the secretary’s desk,” he added.
The groups have said the 17-person board was “slanted” to promote trophy hunting and the importing of body parts from “imperiled species” such as African elephants, lions and rhinos, reflecting a lack of scientists, economists and wildlife conservation experts among its membership.
Last Sept. 23, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan refused to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the White House had not shown that the board served the public interest.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s adult sons are trophy hunters.
The case is Natural Resources Defense Council et al v Bernhardt et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-06903.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)