Trophy hunting has been a widely debated issue for decades, especially since the turn of the millennium. Depending on the constantly shifting public policies and on individual viral stories such as those of Cecil the lion or the crushed-to-death elephant hunter, the subject keeps popping up into the news. And that seems to be the case again with the Trump administration’s recent reversal on the 2015 restriction on killing baby bears and wolf pups in Alaska.
At the end of 2015, the Obama administration finalized a set of federal-level restrictions that aimed to supersede the Alaska state rules on sport and trophy hunting. The rules effectively banned practices such as luring brown bears with bacon grease and doughnuts, shooting hibernating mother bears and their cubs in their dens, killing mother wolfs and coyotes in their dens as they’re weaning off their young, and killing swimming caribou from hunting boats.
These activities were deemed cruel by the Obama administration following a public outcry. As of July 9, 2020, the years-long efforts of the Trump administration have led to the reversal of the trophy hunting bans in National parks.
This reversal has been in the works for years, ever since 2017 when former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke worked to expand “recreational activities” on public lands. This course has also been supported by others close to the Trump administration such as the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. He is a passional trophy hunter himself and has championed the expansion of hunting rights on federally protected lands for years.
Pushback from the Opposition
As would be expected, the reversal was met with a loud outcry by animal advocacy and environmental protection groups.
The Humane Society of the United States described the up-until-now trophy hunting tactics as “horribly cruel” while others are making the point that there’s no “sportsmanship” in these sports hunting methods.
National Park Service spokesman Peter Christian shared in an interview with Reuters that “I would say the vast majority of people did believe this was a controversial move and were almost entirely opposed to us lifting the ban.”
Kitty Block and Sara Amundson from the Humane Society also shared in a blog post that “By opening season on the animals it’s supposed to protect just to appease a few trophy hunters, the agency — and this administration — have not only shown themselves to be extremely poor stewards of our public lands, they have let down a majority of Americans who would never sanction such cruelty against our native wildlife.”
In another statement, National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno said that “Shooting hibernating mama and baby bears is not the conservation legacy that our national parks are meant to preserve and no way to treat or manage park wildlife.”
Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of the Defenders of Wildlife also talked against the decision in a statement saying that “The Trump administration has shockingly reached a new low in its treatment of wildlife. Allowing the killing of bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens is barbaric and inhumane.”
The outrage of countless of animal conservation groups aside, the two main arguments clashing in the trophy hunting debates are that:
- “Trophy and sports hunting is good for the environment as it helps “manage” the animal populations as well as add a bit of revenue to the state”, according to supporters of the Trump administration’s reversal.
- “Trophy and sports hunting is not good for the environment as it mismanages the animal populations and the revenue it brings is insignificant to that of ecotourism,” as stated by animal and environmental advocates.
The Humane Society’s CEO Kitty Block points to reports showing that ecotourism provides more revenue than trophy hunting while doing less damage to the local wildlife. This data goes against one of the arguments of trophy hunting advocates who maintain that ecotourism actually disrupts wildlife habitats too much. The common retort here is that ecotourism only leads to harm when it’s done inadequately.
Regardless of their argumentation and reports, animal and environmental advocates suffered a major loss this July. The fact that the news is also overshadowed by other current events such as the ongoing Covid-19 crisis doesn’t work in their favor. It remains to be seen what will happen in the November presidential election but even with a loss of the Trump administration, this new ruling is bound to remain in law for a while.