Although the Canadian wood bison has been downlisted to threatened and is importable without an import permit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), two of the original permit cases are still open. It is now 14 years since we began the Wood Bison Initiative.
After the wood bison were downlisted, the defendants, the Department of Interior and USFWS, filed a motion to set aside the case judgment that remanded the permit denials and ordered that the applications be processed properly. They argued that permits were no longer needed, and we opposed with the argument that the permit denials were still illegal acts and should be corrected. The Court agreed with Conservation Force and denied the government’s argument that it should no longer have to act on the Court’s determination that the permit denials were a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. That is where it stands, though now the government has written to the permit applicants asking them to waive their rights to valid permits since they no longer need a permit at all.
Second, the government filed an appeal of the District Court’s decision and order that overturned the permit denials. The appeal was filed long past the deadline, so Conservation Force filed a motion to dismiss the appeal and in due course the government (Department of Justice, which represents the DOI and USFWS in litigation) withdrew its appeal. That is over.
Third, Conservation Force filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for approximately 1,600 pages of documents that were not produced in the Administrative Record during the Wood Bison case. Those were the pages where the senior biologists were persuaded by VIP legal advisors higher in the Department of Interior to change their scientific findings and change their draft approval of the enhancement permits. Although the bison are now downlisted, if the scientific findings were knowingly and deceptively falsified we don’t want it to happen again. We want full disclosure and exposure.
The USFWS did not respond to the FOIA request at all and ultimately had to be sued after multiple notices. Conservation Force v. Ken Salazar, et al. 12-1665 (KBJ). They have stalled as long as they can. Though they have responded they have still withheld 577 pages largely on the basis those pages are protected from disclosure under the attorney work product and attorney-client privileges. We in turn have responded that legal advice to do something fraudulent or deceptive like changing scientific findings to avoid political controversy under false pretenses is a violation of professional conduct, thus not legal or protected communications. Cross motions for summary judgment are pending on that FOIA case as this is written. Meanwhile, it was not necessary to file suit to change the denial of enhancement permit applications of black rhino trophies from Namibia, but the markhor suit challenging the denial of those permits is in rehearing.