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USFWS to Process Backlogged Trophy Import Permits for Elephant, Bontebok, Other Species

Inquiries about delayed trophy import permits from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have come to SCI’s Hunter Information Service hotline throughout 2021. Frustrated members have been unable to get information from the government agency regarding pending trophy import applications for leopards, lions, bontebok and, of course, elephants. Some applications have been pending for a year or more, especially for elephant and bontebok. Hunters ask what is causing these delays, and when can they expect to receive permits? That was the subject of a presentation by US Fish & Wildlife Service at th19th Annual African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) organized by SCI Foundation and hosted by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks this past November 8-12, 2021, in Kasane, Botswana.

AWCF is a major annual wildlife conference bringing together African government officials, community representatives, professional hunting association leadership, policy experts, wildlife managers and biologists from across southern and eastern Africa. The event facilitates collaboration on solutions to wildlife management challenges and allows coordinated responses to current conservation issues. USFWS Chief of Management Authority Mary Cogliano attended the event via Zoom. She updated AWCF participants regarding processing delays in 2021, the status of permit applications and what hunters may expect in progress for 2022.

Dr. Cogliano reported a difficult year in which the USFWS experienced compounded limitations caused by COVID-19, reduced staffing and a series of litigation challenges which she says dominated the time of a staff already at reduced capacity. Litigation by anti-hunters questioned the methods and information that USFWS uses to evaluate import permit applications; litigation by hunters forced the processing of stalled import permit applications for African elephants. Finally, an unexpected amount of staff attention was required to resolve issues with the new ePermits online application system that was plagued by numerous programing “bugs,” errors and complications.

The result of all these unfortunate circumstances was that only 23 lion applications were processed in 2021, just a third of what the agency processed in 2020. Over half of the applications were for Tanzania. The others were for Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. None were processed for Mozambique or Namibia. As for pending applications, Cogliano says there are 126 lion applications, 180 bontebok applications, five Cape Mountain zebra applications and 323 elephant applications. Processing has already begun on all of these, and while it will take time to work through the entire backlog, hunters should begin receiving permits or notices regarding their applications by early 2022. Dr. Cogliano pointed out that some applications are incomplete, in that they lack certain required information. These hunters will be informed and given 45 days to submit the missing data. It is important that hunters meet that deadline to avoid having their application treated as “abandoned” and to prevent having to go through the submission process again.

According to Dr. Cogliano, permit applications for certain species from some range nations are delayed due to gaps in information that must be provided by the government wildlife agencies. USFWS has requested this information and will proceed with processing permits once the information is received. However, the USFWS’ inability to process some permits will not delay processing of other applications in the meantime.

Although the 2021 report was disappointing, the USFWS had a positive outlook for 2022.  Settlement of the elephant trophy import lawsuit means USFWS may finally proceed to process import permit applications for African elephant from all countries. Additionally, problems with the ePermits system have been fixed and eight additional staff members have been hired, which means agency resources are freed up to focus on processing permit applications. Dr. Cogliano predicted that the permit application backlog will begin clearing out over 2022, with permit decisions made in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. See the next issue of Safari Times for a more detailed report about the permitting issue with USFWS and other developments aired during the AWCF. SCI members with questions about their permits may contact SCI’s Hunter Information Service at www.safariclub.org/contact.

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