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The Global Politicization of Hunting

February 2022
Author: Ben Cassidy, Executive Vice President

The proverbial other shoe has finally dropped for our friends in the United Kingdom. The government officially opened the subject of an import ban to “consultation” in November of 2019, but it disappeared from the political discourse a few months later when the Coronavirus erupted across the world. The Queen brought the subject back to the forefront in her speech to Parliament in May of 2021, which promised an effort to ban wildlife imports among other “animal welfare” initiatives. And now, the government has announced what it bills as “one of the toughest bans in the world.”

We’ll have to take their word for it, since the announcement contained no actual details. Here’s how they described it in their press release, the only documentation of the proposed ban thus far:

Importing hunting trophies from thousands of endangered and threatened species, including lions, rhinos, elephants, and polar bears, is set to be banned, under new measures announced by Environment Secretary George Eustice today. The new ban will apply to imports of hunting trophies from endangered and threatened animals into Great Britain, supporting long- term species conservation and protecting some of the world’s most endangered and threatened animals – including the frequently killed ‘Big Five’ (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos).This ban will be among the toughest in the world and will protect a range of species including nearly 6,000 animals that are currently threatened by international trade. The Ban will also cover over 1,000 additional species which are considered near-threatened or worse, such as African buffalo, zebra and reindeer – going further than the Government’s initial manifesto commitment to prohibit the import of hunting trophies from endangered species.

There is also no implementation date established for “the Ban.” Notice that it picked up a capital letter in there. The government will first have to propose a bill to Parliament, so “the Ban” is not actually pending, but merely proposed. Additionally, this initiative has now gone beyond a hunting Ban and has proposed banning the import of foie gras, banning the advertisement of “low welfare animal practice abroad,” banning the import and export of shark fins, and banning all trade of animal fur. The bottom line is that “the Ban” is not a ban at all, but just a political statement. At least for now, until and unless Parliament takes action. The Minister has hinted that there is no time frame for this at all, further evidence that Parliament is simply attempting to appease animal rights groups.

In that vein, the government announcement fits into the larger trend of the politicization of hunting. This process predates the pandemic, but many factors have accelerated it recently. Big tech fuels it by censoring content. The refusal of the Biden administration to commit to a No-net-loss policy lays it bare. Trophy ban attempts like the U.K. proposal and perennial bills in many state legislatures demonstrate the “whack a mole” nature of the problem. The shifting makes-up of many commissions that regulate hunting institutionalize it, and ballot-box biology throws out the science that once seemed irrefutable.

Indeed, the U.K. government announcement prides itself on noting that the official consultation provoked more than 44,000 responses, with 86% favoring “further action.” With a population of more than 67 million, you can do the math to see how minuscule this response actually is.

Here in the U.S., ballot box biology usually comes in the form of statewide ballot questions and referenda, which generally require the support of at least fifty percent plus one of the voting electorate for passage. But requiring an enumerated majority for enactment doesn’t make those voters any better equipped to decide scientific questions of conservation policy than the majority of the scant 44,000 activists in the U.K. who demanded the import ban.

Unfortunately, the discussions of wildlife conservation, and hunting, are often held in cities far away from the wildlife in question. As the international community works towards conservation of 30% of our land and waters by 2030, it is critical for wildlife conservation to be scientifically based and locally managed. It is hardly the prerogative of politicians in London or Washington to regulate African wildlife.

As you can see, the challenge presented by the politicization of hunting is not specific to any one country or form of government. It is a global threat that we must counter with tactics that are tailored to the geopolitical system in effect where a given threat is pending, even supranational systems like the European Union. At SCI, we are meeting the challenge in a number of ways, but at the end of the day, the most important course of action is strengthening our partnerships and working together.

Here in the United States, we’ve doubled down on our state coverage. We’ve hired two new state liaisons who both have superb credentials, long experience in the field, and broad, established networks of conservation partners who can now be leveraged for the benefit of upholding science as the prime authority in deciding questions of hunting policy. But no matter how skilled our liaisons at the federal and state level are, they need air cover. The backup for our operatives at every level of government can come only from actionable communications that bring value and engagement with the policy process by empowering our grassroots. Our new focus on member engagement has resulted in membership growth. SCI saw our single best month for organic membership growth in November of 2021. However, we are also seeing growth in grassroots by identifying and recruiting hunters who are hungry to engage in the policy process. We have made this as easy as possible through our Hunter Action Advocacy Center, a grassroots platform that makes education and activation around issues that matter to hunters as easy as possible.

The efforts of SCI, our membership, partners, and advocates have fought key issues in the last year. A trophy ban in Connecticut was signed into law, but with neutering amendments included. The European Union passed an ivory trade ban with the word “commercial” added, exempting hunters. The decision to close millions of acres of hunting access in Alaska was postponed for a year, and we’re working to ensure a final decision this year. We haven’t won the war yet, but we’ve won key battles.

Finally, the battle isn’t over if we lose a vote in a legislature or at the ballot box. And frankly, the battle isn’t over when we win, either. The courts have become more active and prominent in deciding conservation policy outside the political process, so we are putting more resources into our legal efforts. SCI has long deployed the largest in-house team of lawyers who are laser focused solely on hunting and conservation issues. As a result, we are often the only lawyers in the courtroom representing the hunter. Now, we are empowering our team with more resources so they can broaden the scope of their efforts to cover even more territory.

Uncertainty, volatility, and disruption are the new normal. I wish we could believe that these forces will subside, but the evidence points in the other direction. Our advocacy efforts must be strengthened and streamlined, and we are well about that process. We need your help to keep winning these fights across the country and around the world. Learn more about the issues at and get involved today. Thank you for your support!