Threats to The Economic & Ecological Benefits of Hunting:
Challenges That Discourage International Hunters
Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Crown, and I am the editor of The Hunting Report, an international big game hunting newsletter serving hunters who travel. I report on hunting opportunities around the world and the issues that affect traveling hunters. Due to the nature of our publication and the kind of reporting we do, I am in a position to hear immediately about problems affecting hunters going abroad. I receive a continuous stream of reports from hunters. They call me as soon as they get home; they call me from international airports as they are boarding a flight; and they even call from satellite phones in the bush. If something is adversely affecting hunters who travel, I usually find out about it as it is happening. It's for this reason that I was invited to speak here today regarding the threats to the economic and ecological benefits of hunting.
Now, I'm not a scientist or a researcher. I don't conduct surveys, collect data, or compile and sort numbers. So, I won't be giving you carefully measured results on research projects or studies. What I hope to give you is a sense for the ethos of traveling hunters. These are the people responsible for the economic and ecological benefits of hunting that we are discussing at this symposium. I'm talking about the people who dig deep into their pockets and pay to go hunting all over the world. I say they are responsible for the economic and ecological benefits of hunting, simply because when they stop digging into their pockets, these benefits will stop too. So, I believe when we talk about threats to economic and ecological benefits, we're talking about things that would make hunters stop spending money to go hunting.
So, what could be so terrible that it would cause hunters to stop spending money on hunting abroad? I mean, we are talking about a special breed here. International hunters endure all manner of physical discomforts and demands, from slogging through mud in the Okavango, climbing the vertical faces of the Caucasus, to risking frostbite in the Arctic. We brave carrying security sensitive items, namely guns and razor-sharp arrows, to places where we don't speak the language, don't really understand the culture, and don't know exactly how the system works. We dare travel to places that CNN and the BBC portray as chaotic, lawless, depraved and deadly. We seek to put ourselves in danger, trekking into remote, wild places where a bear, a Cape buffalo or a slip and fall down a steep, rocky ravine can literally put our lights out. So, again, what could be so terrible that it would make us balk at hunting abroad?
I'm talking about a number of developments that have popped up over the last couple of years. By themselves, they seem like small things. Some of them, upon closer examination, are not so small at all. And when you take them all together at once, they create a sense of insurmountable burden and uncertainty that will threaten international hunting and thus the conservation programs that hunter's support from the Arctic to Zimbabwe.
As it is widely recognized that the biggest international hunting market is the American one, we have to start there. And the biggest problem this market is currently facing is quite frankly the downright pigheaded, highly bureaucratic, completely autocratic approach of the US Fish & Wildlife Service in the application of CITES regulations and the US Endangered Species Act. In August of 2007, the Service passed a set of Draconian regulations that do much to expand the letter of the law without serving the spirit of the law. I say that because the whole purpose of CITES and the Endangered Species Act after all is to prevent the illegal trafficking of species at risk and to support the recovery of those species. But the regulations that have been passed by the Service have a singular, myopic focus on enforcement that not only hinders the legal trafficking of species but also holds hunters legally responsible for things that are completely out of their control.
For example, the Service has added a number of steps, check off boxes and other items to the export documents it will accept from other nations for CITES species. If the export documentation for a CITES trophy has the slightest clerical error, if the validation from the exporting country is not in the right place, or a particular box is not checked off, US Fish & Wildlife can and will seize the shipment and slap the hunter with some rather hefty fines. Upon seizure, they always say the hunter can file for appeal. But the reality has been that appeals are no more than a frustrating exercise in circular logic, because the Service has a practice of labeling seized trophies as contraband. And a hunter has no right to contraband because contraband is by definition an illegal and prohibited trade. Over the last two years, scores of trophies have been confiscated and hunters held liable for them because someone from the exporting country didn't do a perfect job filling out the export paperwork the way US Fish & Wildlife wants it filled out.
It gets better. Depending on the nature of the document problem, the Service may even decide to charge the hunter with what's called a Lacey Act violation. This law basically makes it a felony to cross either national or state borders in the United States with an illegally taken or imported species. So, for example, if a clerical error on a hunting license mistakenly indicates the species imported was taken out of season, the Service can charge that hunter with a Lacey Act violation. The penalties for each violation include fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in jail.
This does nothing to help species at risk, but it goes a long way in making a hunter rethink his desire to hunt CITES animals, the very species that need hunting dollars the most. Now, whether it's US Fish & Wildlife or some other agency in another country, the point is that this kind of myopic focus on bureaucratic procedures and enforcement of fine legal points is a huge stumbling block for those who hunt abroad.
Right up there with the approach of US Fish & Wildlife Service, are numerous developments with airlines and the transport and transit of firearms. I'll deal specifically with the airlines first.
It used to be so pleasant to get on an airplane and travel. When flight attendants and pilots thanked you for flying with their particular carrier, you believed their sincerity. Now, you know its one of those things they say to feign politeness. In the current environment of heightened security, one gets the clearly transmitted feeling that airline employees know they've got you and if you make too big a fuss, they easily can have airport security haul you away - especially when you are traveling with guns.
There are several problems with airlines that push hunters to the limits of patience. They fall into basically three categories: inconsistent policies between carriers; improperly trained or misinformed agents; and an overall lack of accountability backed by heightened security.
Hunters complain to me on a continual basis about problems they have traveling with their firearms. The problems with airlines begin with inconsistent policies between carriers. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, provides some guidelines regarding how much ammunition a passenger can check (5 kilos), but they don't provide much else in the way of rules all airlines should follow. So, each airline decides how it will deal with firearms as checked baggage. Some require registering information on the firearm in the flight manifest within a specific period before flying. Others only require that you declare your guns upon check in. Some will allow up to two long guns per passenger. Others three. Some allow you to pack ammo with the gun. Others don't. The real problems here emerge when a hunter connects to another carrier with a different policy, or his flight is cancelled and he's put on a carrier he hadn't planned on flying with at all.
Another related problem is a trend towards making it more expensive and more difficult for a hunter to travel with his firearm. More and more airlines are charging a fee just to handle firearms as checked luggage. They are also trimming the acceptable size and weight of gun cases. And now some airlines are charging for a second checked bag, meaning a hunter must pay the handling fee, a second checked bag fee, and if the gun case is too large or too heavy, there's a fee for that too. A hunter may conceivably pay $200 - $300 just to take his gun. One must ask, is the next step refusing to take firearms as baggage at all? There are several airlines, albeit small ones, that already have chosen to do just that, and others that have been forced to due to some kind of regulation they cannot or don't want to deal with.
Some airlines have also chosen to bar hunting trophies from their cargo. Air France did this last year, along with KLM. This created a huge back up in trophies coming from Western Africa. Hunters contacted me asking if they should cancel their hunts because of it, so if you think airline policies aren't really a threat, think again.
The second category of problem with airlines is improperly trained or misinformed agents. Sometimes ticketing and counter agents just don't know what to do about firearms as checked luggage. Ticketing agents with Air France and British Air should know that specific information on firearms must be entered into the flight manifest and other security systems. But sometimes they don't know; or they don't know to ask if you're traveling with a firearm, and the hunter doesn't know there's a special policy to address.
Other times, the check-in agents insist the instructions in "their computer" are different from what the hunter found on the airline's web site. This happened when some check-in agents looked in IATA's system for information on the importation of firearms to various destinations. That led to agents demanding importation paperwork up front. Most countries, however, do not issue this paperwork until the hunter arrives. Yet when Delta began flying direct to Africa, numerous hunters were denied boarding because they could not produce a South African gun import permit. I think you get the picture. This problem is a perfect way to ruin a safari experience before it even starts, and you never know when you will encounter it.
Add to that now, the lack of accountability among airlines and their employees in terms of customer service. Every safari season, I receive a host of complaints from hunters whose bags and guns never made it to Africa, despite many promises from an airline employee that the bags had been located and would be "on the next plane." Safaris are ruined, hunters are uncompensated and no one is held accountable. In fact, in this current environment of heightened security measures, airline employees have quite a bit of power over the customers they are supposed to be serving. Agents with anti-hunting or anti-gun sentiments have refused to take guns and trophies. They harass hunters with humiliating questions and by calling airport security to "confirm" regulations, holding hunters until the last boarding call. Complaints by my subscribers about this kind of treatment have produced little more than a hollow apology by a customer service rep who wasn't even involved in the incident, while the person who caused the problem continues at his or her post. And while hunters never know when they will encounter just such a person, they are learning that there is next to nothing they can do about it. They are completely at the airline's mercy.
So, what else is wearing at hunters who travel? How about varying restrictions on transiting with a firearm and then laborious importation requirements at your final destination? Most international hunters know South Africa has a multi-page application and some very specific import requirements, but every year first-timers are caught unawares, especially if they are only transiting the country. About two years ago, the Netherlands suddenly began requiring a transit permit that caught scores of hunters off guard and left them without their firearms on safaris to east Africa. Many of them got all the way back home, still not knowing what happened to their guns. Neither the Dutch airline, KLM, nor their flight partner, Northwest, bothered to warn passengers about this requirement. For the most part, they still don't.
Taking this problem a bit further, some countries completely bar the transit of firearms to other destinations. The UK, for instance, has a ban on the transit of firearms to a number of important hunting destinations, including Zimbabwe. So, if a check-in agent sees your final destination is Zimbabwe, guess what? Your gun is not getting on that plane. Every year there are hunters whose trips are derailed by these policies.
Just so you know I'm not picking on other destinations, the United States isn't much better. For a long while, transiting the US with a firearm was not even allowed, which made it impossible for Canadians to travel to New Zealand with a connection in the US. Now transiting is possible, but only by plane, and passengers must have documentation proving where they are going and why. Overnight stays are forbidden, so make sure your airline doesn't leave you stranded in the US if you're traveling with a firearm. If you plan on hunting in the US, you must apply for a permit to temporarily import your firearm. It officially takes six to eight weeks, but my subscribers' experiences say you'd better give them a few extra weeks to make sure your permit gets back to you before you have to leave for your trip. Isn't paperwork a treat?
Now, any one of these complications by itself can be seen as a big, fat inconvenience or a hassle to be endured. But all together, one right after another, they create the kind of uncertainty that makes a person, especially one new to international hunting, think long and hard about traveling abroad to hunt. Will my airline take my gun? Will someone confiscate my ammo? Will my gun and hunting equipment make it to my final destination, or will my airline lose it? Worse yet, will customs agents confiscate my gun during transit? Once I arrive, will I be able to import my firearm? Will my trophies be delayed because the airlines won't ship them? And if they arrive in the US will US Fish & Wildlife reject them, confiscate them, or even destroy them? And if they do, will they charge me with a wildlife violation or a felony even though I hunted legally and the mistake on the paperwork was a third party's?
Count the questions. That many uncertainties are enough to destroy international hunting. Perhaps, old hands at international hunting travel won't be deterred, but newer hunters hit with a string of these problems on one or two trips become sufficiently discouraged that they will decide to hunt a little closer to home.
So what can we do about this? Well, the WFSA has created a Transit Task Force to address the issues hunters face when traveling with their firearms. It is chaired by John J. Jackson, III, of Conservation Force, and its members include WFSA President Edward Rowe and WFSA Secretariats Vito Genco and Thomas Mason, as well as representatives of several important shooting and hunting organizations: Robert Green of SSAA of Australia, John Monson of Safari Club International, Rick Patterson of SAAMI, David Penn of British Shooting Sport Council and Johan Svalby of FACE. Also, Steve Turner of Total Travel Solutions and yours truly.
Together, we are looking for ways to remove the specter of uncertainty for sportsmen traveling with sporting firearms. We hope to get some kind of continuity in the way airlines handle firearms and inform and train their employees on policies and procedures. We hope to get airlines and our respective governments to understand that sporthunters are great contributors to conservation and to regional and local economies. The economies of countless small communities (from the prairies of the US and Canada to the savannahs of Africa) would dry up if not for sporthunting dollars, and so would their conservation/anti-poaching programs. We are important travel consumers and conservation contributors. We are the source of many ecological and economic benefits, and barring our ability to travel with the tools of our sport will hurt our economies and our wildlife.
As for enforcement agencies such as US Fish & Wildlife, allow me to be clear about one thing. We need such agencies to ensure enforcement of the laws and regulations we have passed to protect and support the recovery of species at risk. But when those agencies hinder that recovery and the legal hunting programs that support recovery of species, we have a problem, and it takes organizations like John Jackson's Conservation Force and Safari Club International in the United States to challenge these agencies on legal grounds. At this moment, Conservation Force is in litigation with US Fish & Wildlife over a dozen different conservation programs that they have needlessly scuttled, and over numerous legally taken trophies hanging in limbo for technical and bureaucratic reasons. Safari Club International has also challenged the Service in court over various issues, including the downlisting of species that have fully recovered and no longer need to be excluded from hunting programs. However, in order to "fix" such agencies, in the US and anywhere else, it will require political will and leverage, and it is up to us as a united community to find it.
It's important we do, because the reality is that if hunters stop traveling because of the onslaught of hassles and legal traps they face, the conservation programs and species we've all fought so hard to save will disappear. The antis don't need to close hunting. They just need to discourage us from leaving home.
Thank you for your attention.