IN FACE OF LAWSUIT, INTERIOR DEPT. DISBANDS THE IWCC
After a key legal defeat, the Department of the Interior told a federal district court that all Council business will cease, bringing an end to the controversial advisory body. Disbanding the council is a step forward for the conservation of imperiled species, but we will continue to fight to ensure that Secretary Bernhardt is not allowed to use or rely on the IWCC’s advice, reports, and recommendations –– which also violate FACA and legally cannot influence Interior’s decision-making.Learn More
In November 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unlawfully outsourced federal conservation policy to the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), a group of trophy hunting advocates. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has long encouraged the conservation of overseas populations of threatened and endangered species like lions, elephants, and rhinos. To that end, FWS had relied on two now-abandoned advisory committees, containing a diverse array of viewpoints. The creation of the IWCC represents a dramatic break from this longstanding practice. We filed suit on behalf of multiple environmental organizations to stop it.
The IWCC is unlawfully stacked with individuals with personal or financial interests in the killing and importing of “trophies,” and the council has refused to release its records, as required by law. Under federal law, groups convened to advise agencies are subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires advisory committees to maintain balanced membership, protect against inappropriate special interests, and operate transparently. Since its creation, however, the IWCC has only included voices that support weakening the regulation of imports of threatened and endangered animals. Committee members almost exclusively include trophy hunters, donors to the Trump Administration, and firearm manufacturers. Four of the seventeen members even hosted a hunting-themed inaugural ball for President Trump.
We filed suit against Secretary Zinke and the Department of the Interior for violating FACA by creating the IWCC. On behalf of organizations dedicated to scientifically sound and humane wildlife conservation–the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity–we alleged that the Council was illegally chartered, unfairly balanced against conservation interests, rife with conflicts of interest, and operating in secret. The complaint asks that the Court declare that the Council’s creation is illegal, appoint conservation interests to the Council, and release all materials prepared for or by the Council.
The court rejected the government’s motion to dismiss on virtually every count, and the administration disbanded the council soon thereafter. Disbanding the controversial trophy hunting council is a significant victory in the fight against the Trump administration’s illegal advisory bodies. And our lawsuit revealed the IWCC’s secret recommendations to the public for the first time, exposing this work to the public scrutiny it deserved. On September 28, 2020, the court dismissed the case as moot.
In the news
NPR / February 10, 2020
EcoWatch / February 11, 2020
CNN / August 1, 2018
E&E News / December 13, 2018
November 3, 2017
Secretary Zinke created the deceptively named International Wildlife Conservation Council.
He gave the Council a mission of promoting the benefits of international trophy hunting, and tasked the Council with providing specific recommendations on a number of policy areas essential to the preservation of threatened and endangered species. At the same time, Zinke allowed the charter of the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, another advisory council, to lapse.
November 8, 2017
The IWCC was publicly announced and the Department began soliciting nominations for Council membership.
The Department proceeded to reject all nominations from conservation, public interest, or science groups, and instead stacked the Council with friendly political donors, firearm manufacturers, and advocates for trophy hunting, most of whom stand to personally benefit from their work on the Council.
June 19, 2018
The IWCC held its first full meeting.
In direct contravention of FACA, the Council surprised the public by discussing technical and previously undisclosed proposals to facilitate trophy hunting.
August 1, 2018
We filed suit on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, and Human Society International.
November 14, 2018
The government moved to dismiss our case.
December 7, 2018
We responded to the government’s motion to dismiss.
Our brief explains why courts have jurisdiction to consider violations of FACA, how Defendants’ actions violate the law, and why Plaintiffs are injured by the unlawful Council.
February 8, 2019
The government replied to our response.
June 3, 2019
The Court held oral argument
There is a lot we still don't know about the administration's illegal trophy hunting council because it operates primarily behind closed doors, but we are determined to press our case forward and bring this secret work to light.
September 23, 2019
THE COURT REJECTED GOVERNMENT’S MOTION TO DISMISSLearn More
February 11, 2020
INTERIOR DEPT. DISBANDS IWCC
After a legal loss, the DOI announced that it abandoned the Council. We will keep litigating to ensure that the agency is not allowed to rely on this illegal council’s recommendations and reports.Learn More
Jeffrey DubnerManaging Senior Counsel
Litigating challenges to unlawful actions, abuses of power, and threats to democracy on behalf of those who are harmed.Read the Bio