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Trophy Seizure Threat Reaches New High; USFWS Conduct Reaches New Low

Written By John J. Jackson III, Conservation Force Chairman & President

(posted March 2012)


In late summer, 2011, possibly the worst problem yet with US trophy imports began developing. US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Law Enforcement import inspectors at some ports started requiring two quotas on export permits when leopard trophies were exported in a year different than the year taken. For example, if a leopard was taken in 2011 but not exported until 2012, some port inspectors want both the year of the take (2011) and the year of the export (2012) and the respective quota for each year to be on the export permit. In effect, two quotas have to be allocated by the foreign country. Those inspectors want the year of shipment and quota in block 11(a) of the CITES export permit. 

Because the exact form of the CITES export permit is not mandated, some countries don’t even have a Section 11(a) on their forms. Furthermore, it has never been the practice to use two quotas. Additionally, the new double quota is only required by some inspectors in some ports and only in the United States. Worse, no clarification has been provided by USFWS despite multiple requests from every part of the industry and southern and eastern African countries trying to comply. Shipments already in transit to the US have been halted at intermediate stops and frozen in place. Many are still on hold today. Storage charges have been accumulating on shipments on hold in intermediate ports. Shipments have been broken up and returned to exporting countries from intermediate countries. The Section 11(a)/two-years-means-two-quotas issue began being applied to elephant trophies and is rumored to apply to crocodile as well. All are on Appendix I or II of CITES, with CITES quotas, and thus require an export permit, a quota and tagging or marking. Foreign authorities, brokers and all concerned cannot fathom the requirement of allocating and including two or more quotas, and the CITES Secretariat is reporting mixed and confusing responses to its inquiries to USFWS. 

The problem has grown worse as has the confusion and panic. Hunting clients have demanded their trophies, while brokers have stalled, anticipating clarification. Due to changes in the Service Manual, hunters are now held accountable for disagreements between country authorities. The March 2008 changes to the Manual deleted the express provision that hunters should not be liable for technical differences between exporting countries and the United States. Those same Manual changes also added that seizure be considered first before all lesser alternatives, while it deleted the express 30-day “grace period” that had allowed for correction of technical errors. These changes have made the community vulnerable and sensitive. It is a hell of a mess, and the divisions of the USFWS have not seemed to care. 

Finally, after five months (August-December), the Chief of Permits promised that he would issue a definitive answer at the Dallas Safari Club convention specifying what in fact was required by the USFWS. He did not provide any clarification of what was required. Most trophies are frozen in place with secondary problems, such as the passage of permit expiration dates that have ticked past. The furor is growing. 

Four weeks later at the SCI Convention, industry leaders, foreign government representatives and USFWS met in a number of side meetings. The Deputy Director of USFWS, Rowan Gould, said that the problem was not yet resolved. He very personably explained that he had a personal friend who had a leopard seized, but he could not solve the problem for his friend. He acknowledged that “hunters are caught in the middle…caught in a trap” that has to be fixed, but there are differences on the issue within the USFWS, so there is not yet a definitive answer. He was backed up by the Chief of Management Authority, Roddy Gabel, who confirmed that they were working on the problem but had no resolution yet. Chief Gabel said he was puzzled why the problem had not arisen “until last year.” The foreign government representatives and leaders of the Professional Hunter associations of Africa looked at the Deputy Director and Chief of Management Authority with disappointment that the issue was not resolved and condemnation of the havoc caused by the delay. The agency that is so judgmental of others is caught in its own trap. Apparently Law Enforcement and the Management Authority can’t agree, and each port of entry has its own view. 

The Deputy Director got sharp with me when he thought I was suggesting that it was being done deliberately, when in fact what I was implying was the obvious: the delay was irresponsible, the problem was of their own making and the consequences were the result of the harsh new provisions in the internal Service Manual. 

This may be the worst seizure and forfeiture problem I have seen, but this block 11(a) issue is just a symptom of a deeper problem within the Agency. Hunters don’t seem to have a friend within the Agency leadership anymore. That is frightening. What will be next? 

One broker said that the port inspectors and Solicitors have been turned loose on international hunters like an uncontrolled pack of attack dogs. They are inventing issues on their own without adequate oversight with the mistaken caveat that the trade is disfavored, must be strictly controlled and any technical irregularity should convert trophies into contraband rather than just “subject to” being treated so only when the situation warrants. This does indeed jeopardize the safari industry and the conservation dependent upon the industry. It creates disrespect for the Law Enforcement agency and mistrust of USFWS. Believe me, those innocent hunters that are losing their trophies will not soon forget or forgive the deep personal loss and excessiveness of the mistreatment. The mistreatment is unforgivable. How can our government go so wrong? It is time to govern the regulators before more harm is done. 

Conservation Force and its supporting organizations, such as Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Grand Slam/OVIS, etc., are no longer the only organizations sounding the alarm. Most of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) signed a request back in September 2011 directed to the Director to fix the problem. The latest double quota development occurred after that and after other joint letters from Conservation Force (including NRA, SCI and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation) and its member organizations to both the Chief of Law Enforcement and Director of the USFWS without response except that they are working on it. As I write this, the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council is scheduled to address the issue and make recommendations to the Director of USFWS. 

I received a surprising phone call today (mid-February). Five different leopard trophies have been seized on entry into Houston for the “Section 11(a) violation.” The seizures are continuing! We need hunters and brokers to report seizures to Conservation Force as early as possible.


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