Lawsuit over politically ‘slanted’ Trump wildlife board can proceed: U.S. judge

Lawsuit over politically ‘slanted’ Trump wildlife board can proceed: U.S. judge
By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge has rejected the Trump administration’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by animal rights groups seeking to dissolve a wildlife advisory board they said was stacked with politically connected donors and pro-hunting enthusiasts.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan said on Monday that the administration has not shown that its International Wildlife Conservation Council served the public interest, having justified it with “boilerplate” language rather than the required “reasoned explanation.”

She said the plaintiffs could try to prove that the 17-person board was not “fairly balanced” to incorporate different points of view, reflecting what they called its lack of scientists, economists and wildlife conservation experts.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan, whose office defended the government, declined to comment.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2018 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society.

These groups said the wildlife board created in November 2017 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was “slanted” to promote “trophy hunting” and the importing of body parts from “imperiled species” such as African elephants, lions and rhinos.

They also said the board violated a federal law curbing White House use of “secretive” advisory panels to set national policy, and caused harm by forcing them to divert resources to monitoring the board.

“The Trump administration has provided no reason for creating a trophy hunting council, stacking it with big game profiteers and operating it behind closed doors,” the groups’ lawyers from Democracy Forward said. “We will press forward in our efforts to shut down this illegal committee for good.”

In seeking a dismissal, the administration had said the groups lacked standing to sue, having suffered at most a setback to their “abstract social interests,” and could not litigate what was essentially a policy disagreement.

Nathan dismissed one claim involving a recordkeeping issue.

Zinke resigned as interior secretary last December. He had said the wildlife board would advise on the benefits of recreational hunting, including “boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s adult sons are trophy hunters.

The case is Natural Resources Defense Council et al v Zinke et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-06903.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)