At the forum of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) this past August, Conservation Force conducted a slide presentation for those present, including the new Director of USFWS, on the trophy seizure crisis and what is behind it. The new Director listened, but more importantly, others stood up and amplified on the presentation with problems experienced by their own members. The AWCP ended up passing a resolution to prepare a “sign-on” letter to the new Director detailing the problem and seeking relief. That letter was completed, and the following organizations signed on:
• Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
• National Rifle Association
• Conservation Force
• Wild Sheep Foundation
• Dallas Safari Club
• Grand Slam/OVIS
• Houston Safari Club
• Pope and Young Club
• Wild Sheep Foundation
• Boone and Crockett Club
• Catch-A-Dream Foundation
• African Safari Club of Florida
• National Trappers Association
• The Campfire Club of America
• Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
• North American Bear Foundation
• National Shooting Sports Foundation
• Quality Deer Management Association
• Campfire Club of America
• Mule Deer Foundation
• Masters of Foxhounds
• Texas Wildlife Association
• Safari Club International
Most of the professional hunting associations of Africa also signed an addendum to the letter to the Director:
• African Professional Hunters Association
• Namibia Professional Hunting Association
• Tanzania Professional Hunters Association
• Ethiopian Professional Hunters Association
• International Professional Hunters’ Association
• Botswana Wildlife Management Association
• Tanzania Hunting Operators Association
• National Taxidermists Association
• Taxidermy Association of South Africa
• Professional Hunters Association of South Africa
Others also signed on but after the letter went out. In fact, we were deluged with signers that could not be added.
That was followed up with a letter to the new Chief of Law Enforcement, Chief Woody, asking for a meeting with representatives from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, NRA, SCI and Conservation Force. Like the letter to the Director, this letter outlined the changes in the Chief’s Directives, Service Manual (2008), and 2007 US CITES Regulations:
The new section does not have the “grace period” to correct clerical errors and provisions absolving the individual importer from penalty when the disagreement is with the issuing government. Those sections and Chief’s Directive that provided leniency were deleted. Worse, the new Inspection section states that seizure is to be preferred, in effect eliminating the listed alternatives that have generally been more fitting options…
The inspectors are no longer using discretion. Instead, they are seizing trophies for every violation as a matter of course. Solicitors are no longer remitting seizures. Solicitors are treating every seized trophy as contraband that can’t be remitted regardless of the innocence of the importer, the scale of the violation, or the fact that it is the issuing government’s clerical error, neglect or disagreement with new US practices…
A trophy is seized nearly every second day. Some seizures have caused such panic that trophy trade has frozen or locked-up around the globe. At least one seizure has been of a trophy that cost in excess of one-hundred thousand dollars.
We have not been able to get much relief from the courts around the country. The first case in California where we filed suit over three separate leopard seizures was denied by the District Court, the Appellate Court, and a request for a rehearing before the entire Ninth Circuit Appellate Court en banc was not granted. We have now applied for a writ before the US Supreme Court. That case has been narrowed down to two issues: (1) Were the trophy owners denied a fair hearing of their petitions for remission when the Solicitor had a fixed, pre-decided opinion that the trophies were not eligible for remission because contraband can’t be returned and they were contraband regardless of the situation?
(2) Does the Excess Punishment clause of the US Constitution apply to the trophy forfeitures? Forfeiture of $100,000 trophies for a $500 violation does not fit.
In the first instance, the Assistant Solicitor in California who decides the petitions for remission repeatedly states that she can’t remit the trophies because it is illegal to possess contraband regardless of the mitigating circumstances and any and every violation converts the trophy into contraband. She fortifies her denials with the statement that the “need to maintain the integrity of the CITES permitting system outweighs the equities presented.” Any and all technical and clerical errors threaten the integrity of the system. She will not accept a monetary fine in lieu of forfeiture.
USFWS argues that the forfeitures are remedial, not “punishment,” thus the Excessive Punishment clause of the Constitution does not apply at all. The California trial court agreed without citing or considering the Supreme Court case that states the clause applies if any part of the forfeiture is for “punishment” purposes. The Appellate Court avoided the issue and would not rehear it. We are arguing this issue in every case across the country because the seizures don’t fit the minor violations. Unfortunately, we have been handicapped because import brokers don’t know the value of the trophies and enter all sorts of small sums in the value block on the 3-177 wildlife import declaration forms. By the time we learn of a seizure, that form has been incorrectly completed. We advise that at least the base price of the hunt (prorated) and the trophy fee be used, not the packing fee or government’s export fee or some other figure out-of-the-blue.
There are too many of these cases, and broken hearts, to cover them all here, but some have been settled in court. One settlement was in Atlanta, when after two years of litigation the hunter was returned his scrimshawed elephant tusks, but only after he personally disc-sanded the etching of the “Big Five” off of the one side where it had been pencil etched. We advise anyone with an etched elephant trophy to do this before it is imported and seized, but make sure you don’t sand off the identification with the etching.
In another case, after nearly three years in two courts, the court ordered the USFWS to mediate, and the hunter was then permitted to ship his lion back to Africa to ship it all over again at a cost of approximately $3,000 and approximately one year of time. That was because USFWS absolutely refused to accept a corrected export permit that had already been issued because the issuing government had corrected its mistake without first consulting with and gathering concurrence from USFWS. That omission may seem rather unimportant when it was the government’s own mistake, but USFWS would not even respond to multiple correspondences from the issuing government nor explain why it was not responding. It was not good foreign relations or the international cooperation that is the basis of CITES, and the Appellate Court said so in an angry retort to the government’s counsel during oral argument.
We have now revised our checklist on how to avoid trophy importation problems. This is the third version of this checklist. Hunters, operators, shipping agents and trophy clearing agents should all refer to it when shipping any CITES species into the US.