The attorneys of Safari Club International's Litigation Department work to promote and preserve hunting and sustainable use conservation in courts throughout the country. SCI is unique among hunting organizations for having an in-house team of lawyers dedicated to hunting and wildlife conservation-based litigation.
SCI has litigated over 50 cases throughout the United States involving numerous domestic and international hunting-related issues. SCI’s lawyers have filed briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court five times, involving:
- The possible criminalization of hunting videos,
- The Second Amendment,
- Roads for wildlife and hunting,
- States' authority to regulate navigable waters within National Preserves, and
- Authority to hunt three antelope species.
SCI lawyers also prepare comments on SCI’s behalf in response to public input opportunities regarding federal and state actions, regulations and policies.
Each year at the SCI Convention, SCI attorneys and other guest leaders in the fields of hunting, firearms, wildlife conservation and importation present a highly rated continuing legal education course for lawyers.
- NPS Regulations in Alaska (Sturgeon v. Frost)
SCI member, John Sturgeon, challenged the National Park Service’s authority to regulate activities on non-federal waters in Alaska, including use of his hovercraft on rivers that run through National Preserves. The U.S. district court in Alaska and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the NPS’s exercise of its authority. Sturgeon petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case. SCI filed an amicus brief in support of Sturgeon’s petition to demonstrate the broader impact of the lower courts’ ruling on resident and non-resident hunters in Alaska, and after the Supreme Court accepted review of the case, SCI filed a brief in support of Sturgeon on the merits. The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and sent the case back for further review. On remand, the Ninth Circuit again upheld the NPS’s authority, this time using a different justification.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted Sturgeon a second opportunity to present his case challenging the NPS’s authority. SCI filed a third brief with the Supreme Court in support of Sturgeon’s position. Oral argument was held in the Supreme Court in early November 2018.
- Native American Hunting in Violation of State Hunting Regulations (Herrera v. Wyoming)
A member of the Crow Tribe has defended a criminal prosecution by the State of Wyoming for hunting out of season by claiming a treaty right to hunt off-reservation, including on U.S. Forest Service lands in Wyoming. The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The definition of “unoccupied lands,” a term in the treaty, will be a key point for the Supreme Court to determine, but could include National Forests, National Parks, and other federal and state lands. SCI will file an amicus brief in support of Wyoming’s ability to apply its hunting regulations to members of Native American tribes who hunt outside the boundaries of their reservation land.
- 2016-2018 Zimbabwe Elephant and Lion Importation (CBD v. Zinke; Friends of Animals v. Zinke)
Two separate lawsuits were filed by anti-hunting groups—one by Center for Biological Diversity; the other by Friends of Animals and the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force—challenging the FWS’s November 2017 positive enhancement findings on importation of elephants and lions harvested in Zimbabwe between 2016 and 2018. SCI and NRA successfully intervened in both cases. Because the FWS decided to withdraw the challenged findings and switch to a permit-by-permit approach to processing import applications, the focus of the cases has changed. Plaintiffs are now challenging the new permitting approach. SCI/NRA and the Federal Defendants moved to dismiss both cases. Briefing on the motions is complete. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled. (See the recently closed elephant importation case information below for more information.)
- McKittrick Case (WildEarth Guardians v. Department of Justice)
WildEarth Guardians and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance filed suit in U.S. district court in Arizona to challenge the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) practice of choosing not to pursue criminal prosecution of individuals who accidentally shoot members of federally protected species. The district court ordered the plaintiffs to amend their case to include only allegations concerning the impact of the policy on Mexican wolves. After the court denied DOJ’s motion to dismiss, the court granted SCI’s request to intervene in the case. The district court ultimately ruled that the policy violated the Endangered Species Act. SCI, the DOJ, and the other defendant-intervenors in the case (represented by Pacific Legal Foundation) appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit.
The Ninth Circuit held oral argument in early October 2018. The judges immediately expressed concern about the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case – an argument that SCI maintained since it intervened in the case. Just two weeks after oral argument, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs did not have standing and vacated the district court’s opinion.
- New Jersey Black Bear Hunting (NJOA, et al. v. McCabe, et al.)
SCI, along with the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, filed suit challenging the closure of New Jersey state lands to black bear hunting. To fulfill a campaign promise, and in complete contradiction to science-based wildlife management, New Jersey’s new Governor directed the responsible state agency to do all that it could to close down black bear hunting in the state. SCI and the other hunting organizations’ lawsuit argues that the agency’s authority to close state hunting lands is limited because the Department of Environmental Protect cannot close the lands without reasonable justification and without involving the public. The case was briefed in New Jersey’s appellate court on a very expeditious schedule. On November 7, 2018, the court heard oral argument. We expect to have a decision soon.
- Defense of Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Delisting (Crow Tribe et al. v. Zinke, et al.)
After the FWS delisted the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bears, several Indian tribes, anti-hunting groups, and one individual filed six separate lawsuits in the U.S district court in Montana challenging the delisting. SCI and the NRA successfully intervened in all six cases, which were consolidated. After expedited briefing, the court held a hearing on August 30, 2018. In early September, the court held that the delisting was illegal for several reasons and put the bears back on the Endangered Species list. This ended planned hunts by Wyoming and Idaho. The defendants and defendant-intervenors, including SCI and NRA, are weighing appeal options.
- Challenge to FWS and NPS Alaska Hunting Regulations (SCI v. Zinke)
SCI filed suit against the FWS and NPS to challenge rules adopted by the Obama Administration that prohibit and/or restrict certain means and methods of hunting on National Preserves, National Wildlife Refuges, and specifically the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (for reasons discussed below, the NWR part of the case was dropped). The State of Alaska and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association filed similar challenges. The cases are proceeding together. The Center for Biological Diversity, HSUS and several other national and Alaska-based anti-hunting organizations intervened to defend the regulations. Briefing has been stayed in the cases because the NPS proposed to withdraw some of the challenged regulations. The parties all agreed to wait and see what happens with the NPS’s proposed withdrawal before proceeding to briefing any remaining issues.
In early 2017, Congress passed and the President signed into law a joint resolution, under authority of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), that reversed the FWS regulation imposing hunting restrictions on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. On April 20, 2017, CBD filed a lawsuit challenging the joint resolution and the CRA. SCI and the NRA intervened to defend the CRA and joint resolution. SCI and the NRA filed a motion to dismiss, as did the Federal Defendants and Pacific Legal Foundation. On May 9, 2018, the Alaska district court granted the motions and dismissed the case. The court agreed with SCI and the Federal Government that CBD lacked standing to assert one of its two claims. The court also ruled that none of CBD’s claims stated plausible claims for relief. CBD has appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. SCI/NRA are parties and will participate in briefing, which will be completed this winter.
- Mexican Wolf Rule Revisions (SCI v. Zinke)
SCI and SCI’s two New Mexico chapters filed suit in New Mexico federal district court in late 2015 challenging revisions to the Mexican wolf experimental population regulations that the FWS finalized in January 2015. The New Mexico court transferred the case to Arizona. On April 26, 2017, the court heard oral argument from all four cases currently challenging the Mexican wolf rule, including two filed by anti-hunting groups that challenged that the rules are not aggressive enough and two, including SCI’s case, that asserted that the rules go too far. In April 2018, the court granted summary judgment to the anti-hunting groups and remanded the rule to the FWS, ordering the parties to agree on a schedule for the FWS to revise the rule. In particular, the court directed the FWS to reconsider its determination that the experimental population is non-essential.
The parties have 60 days from the date of the Court’s final order (not yet issued) to decide whether to appeal. The anti-hunting groups want the FWS to take affirmative action to protect the wolves during the time that it will take the FWS to revise the now invalidated rule and have filed a motion for injunctive relief. SCI opposed that request, based at least in part on the premise that any affirmative relief that alters the status quo will require rulemaking and compliance with National Environmental Policy Act procedures.
In late 2017, the FWS finalized a new Mexican wolf recovery plan that conflicts, to some extent, with the Mexican wolf experimental population rules. Several groups have challenged the plan and the case has been transferred to the same judge who remanded the experimental population rule. The FWS has filed a motion to dismiss these cases. If the cases are not dismissed, SCI will consider intervening to defend the recovery plan.
- Lead Ammunition in Kaibab National Forest (CBD v. U.S. Forest Service)
SCI, in coordination with the NRA, intervened in the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2012 challenge to lead ammunition use in the Kaibab National Forest. After an early dismissal by the U.S. district court in Arizona and a long appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which reinstated the case, the parties were again before district court. The parties, including SCI/NRA, filed briefs supporting a second request to dismiss CBD’s claims. In March 2017, the district court dismissed the case for a second time, this time on grounds that the court could not grant the relief CBD sought. On April 20, 2017, CBD appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. The parties, including SCI and NRA, completed briefing on the case in November 2017. The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on September 7, 2018.
- Kaibab National Forest Travel Management Plan (WildEarth Guardians v. Provencio)
Several anti-hunting groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona federal district court to challenge the Kaibab National Forest travel management plan that allows off-road vehicle use for game retrieval and other hunting-related activities. SCI and the State of Arizona intervened to defend the plan. On September 26, 2017, the district court ruled in favor of SCI and the Federal Defendants. This means that, for now, the travel management plan remains in place. The anti-hunting groups appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. SCI is a party in the appeal and briefing was completed in September 2018.
- FOIA Demand for Information About Trophy Importers (HSI v. FWS)
Humane Society International filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the FWS, challenging the FWS’s decision to withhold information about the identity of hunters who import trophies into the United States. SCI intervened to defend the FWS’s decision. The FWS requested that anyone who submitted such information to submit objections to the FWS about the release of the information. The FWS set a strict deadline (21 days) and declared that it would presume that anyone who did not object in that time period did not object to the release. SCI published this information to its members and to the hunting community generally. SCI’s efforts were successful, as 1,429 individuals and 181 businesses filed objections. SCI also filed its own objections to the release of this information. The FWS released some information but did not release the names of individuals who imported/exported wildlife.
SCI filed two briefs defending the decision not to release personal information to these anti-hunting groups, who have attacked hunters in the media in the recent past. Briefing is now complete, and we are awaiting either the scheduling of a hearing or a decision by the court.
Recently Closed Litigation
- Elephant Importation Bans Challenge (SCI v. Zinke)
SCI filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) April 4, 2014 suspension of the importation of sport-hunted elephants from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. NRA subsequently joined us as a plaintiff. After the FWS decided in July 2014 to continue the Zimbabwe ban, we amended our case to include new challenges to the later ban.
On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in SCI/NRA’s favor on one key argument. The Court ruled that the FWS should have conducted rulemaking on its “enhancement findings” for the importation of elephants harvested in Zimbabwe in 2014-15.
On March 1, 2018, the FWS announced that it was withdrawing not only its findings regarding the importation of elephants from Zimbabwe, but findings related to elephants, lions, and bontebok from other countries. In place of countrywide findings, the FWS will process each import permit application individually. Based on the March 1 announcement by the FWS, the district court dismissed SCI’s Zimbabwe and Tanzania claims as moot, ending the litigation.
- Grand Teton National Park Elk Hunt (Mayo v. Jarvis; Sierra Club v. Zinke)
Two photographers challenged the elk management program administered on Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. In a separate case, Sierra Club challenged the NPS and FWS’s approval of the hunt. SCI participated as a defendant-intervenor in both cases. After the parties completed the briefing, the judge ruled against both sets of plaintiffs on all counts except one small procedural claim (which was later mooted).
The court made favorable rulings on the issues of primary concern for SCI. One of the photographers pursued an appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which SCI participated. The Court held oral argument for September 11, 2017. In November 2017, the Court ruled in favor of SCI and the federal government, ending the case.
- Defense of Western Great Lakes Wolves Delisting (HSUS v. Zinke)
SCI, NRA, USSAF and several other organizations intervened in a case in which HSUS and other anti-hunting groups challenged the legality of the FWS’s decision to delist the Western Great Lakes population of wolves. The district court vacated the delisting and placed the WGL wolves back on the endangered species list. All defendants and defendant-intervenors appealed the decision. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that affirmed the lower court (meaning that the wolves are back on the ESA list), but it overturned a detrimental part of the ruling by the lower court. The FWS is now evaluating what to do about the delisting of this population of wolves.