NRA Agreement Made It Easier to Put Animal ‘Heads on Walls’
Federal regulators have tossed a last-minute Trump-era agreement with the National Rifle Association about wildlife conservation which critics said was designed to help trophy hunters.
Aurelia Skipwith, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service under Trump, signed the agreement on Jan. 13, just seven days before President Joseph Biden was sworn in.
“The service’s memorandum of understanding with the National Rifle Association was not adequately reviewed by agency staff or the Department of the Interior solicitor’s office,” said an agency spokesperson. “Therefore, the service terminated the agreement.”
The 10-year agreement called for the agency to work with the NRA to develop “science-based strategies” for wildlife conservation. The agreement also called for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the NRA to promote hunter education, expand access to shooting ranges and hunting and promote marksmanship and shooting safety.
Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, which asked that the agreement be rescinded, said the likely goal of the agreement is “increasing the opportunity for trophy hunters to kill big game animals and put their heads on walls.”
The NRA’s most noted trophy hunter is Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, whose hapless efforts to kill an elephant have made him a mockingstock. Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. are also both trophy hunters.
Nearly 32,500 “trophies” from animals in Africa such as elephants, lions and rhinoceroses were imported from 2005 to 2014 into the United States. An estimated 26 million elephants roamed across Africa in the early 1800s. That number has been decimated by overhunting, habitat loss and poaching to about 415,000.
The Trump-era agreement Skipwith signed named NRA lobbyist Erica Tergeson as the NRA contact. Tergeson, also known as Erica Rhoad, once worked for the House appropriations subcommittee on Interior and related agencies.
Biden said during the presidential campaign that he opposes importing body parts from animals hunted overseas.
Rhoad was one of the members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council who Trump’s first Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, set up to help rewrite federal rules for importing heads, hides and other body parts of African elephants, lions and rhinos.
Other members included Peter Horn, a vice president at Beretta who owned a hunting property in upstate New York with Donald Trump Jr., and Republican fundraiser Steven Chancellor whose hunting record includes killing at least 18 lions, 13 leopards, six elephants and two rhinos.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups sued in 2018, saying the makeup of the council violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act which requires that all federal advisory panels have a balanced mix of members. Team Trump said in February 2020 that it disbanded the council.