A U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspector examines items that violated wildlife import laws.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Biomedical group weighs in on U.S. court fight over wildlife imports

Originally published by E&E News

Biomedical researchers have entered the thicket that entangles the importation of foreign fish and wildlife.

Citing the potential exposure of precious information, the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) in Washington, D.C., is challenging a judge's order that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) release more public records about the wildlife being imported into the United States.

"The general public, as well as the business community, has an interest in maintaining the ability of businesses to keep their proprietary information confidential," the association's president, Matthew Bailey, stated in a court filing.

The fight comes over an Arizona-based federal judge's March 30 order that FWS turn over to the Center for Biological Diversity in Tuscon more of the records from the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS). The massive database includes forms filed by applicants for the import or export of fish and wildlife.

The legal struggle over information, in turn, is only one front in a broader public policy conflict that's drawn in every branch of the federal government.

On the executive branch front, the Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced plans for a June 19 meeting of the International Wildlife Conservation Council. This will be the second meeting of the 16-member advisory panel, whose stated focus is advocacy for the "benefits that result from United States citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting" (Greenwire, March 2).

In Congress, lawmakers are advancing a signal-sending bill to prohibit the taking of any domestic endangered or threatened species as a trophy, and to ban the importation of any such foreign wildlife trophy into the United States. The bill (H.R. 5690) now has six co-sponsors, up from the three it had when introduced last month by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

And in the courts, multiple lawsuits proceed.

One suit, filed in Washington in March by four conservation and animal protection groups, challenges the Trump administration's decision to resume approving elephant and lion trophy imports.

"This administration seems determined to allow Safari Club International and other special interests to unduly influence federal wildlife policy decisions," Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney with the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., said in a statement in March.

The Arizona case that troubles biomedical researchers takes a different tack, as environmental advocates seek importation data from the LEMIS stockpile.

"These imports include everything from python-skin boots, to parrots and turtles destined for the pet trade ... to lions killed as hunting trophies, as well as zoo and scientific specimens," the Center for Biological Diversity's original complaint noted (Greenwire, April 3).

From 2001 until about mid-2014 or 2015, FWS released the LEMIS data "without exemption," U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Macdonald stated. In 2016, though, the agency withheld information that included the declared value, quantity and identity of the foreign importer/exporter.

Ten firms in particular, including Genentech Inc., Primate Products Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb, have warned about the public disclosure of commercial information. They want Macdonald to stay his order to FWS pending an appeal by the National Association for Biomedical Research, which is stepping in following a May 29 decision by the Trump administration not to appeal the order.

"Disclosure of the confidential information of NABR's members at issue would reveal critical supply chains, carriers, routes, demand, volumes, pricing, customers, strategy and other inside information that competitors would be able to use to gain a competitive advantage," the association stated in a May 11 legal brief.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2018. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net