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Comment on the proposed threatened listing and special rule governing import of the African Lion, 79 FR 64472, Oct. 29, 2014 (FWS–R9–ES–2012–0025)


January 27, 2015

Metairie, LA (Conservation Force) – This is a comment on behalf of Conservation Force and a number of its supporting member organizations including Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, African Safari Club of Florida, Shikar Safari Club International, International Professional Hunters Association and Professional Hunters Association of South Africa.

Conservation Force is among the foremost leaders of and most actively engaged organizations in Africa-wide lion conservation.  This has been described in prior comments preceding this pending proposal, which comments in their entirety on the status of the lion throughout Africa are incorporated herein by reference to avoid repetition.  We have previously filed voluminous, meticulously referenced comments in the earlier stages of this listing that will not be repeated here.

We compliment the Branch of Foreign Species, Ecological Services, USF&WS for its thorough fact-finding and analysis.  Nevertheless, we oppose the proposed threatened listing of the African lion subspecies throughout its entire range and most particularly oppose the proposed special rule that would require import permits for hunting trophies and oppose the uncertain and impractical conditions of those import permits.

Distribution and Abundance

We fully agree that “[e]stimates of lion abundance on a large geographical scale are few in number” and that “[s]pecies experts recognize that estimating the size of the African lion population is an ambitious task, involving many uncertainties,” as stated on page 64476.  This is not because of a lack of effort.  (This is also why a 4(d) rule that requires at a minimum “good population data” is of great concern and would serve as an import ban in disguise.)  The nature of lion populations is boom and crash/bust.  Lion are nocturnal and their coloration further makes them hard to see and distinguish.  Population surveys of lion have not been considered practical by the scientific community (personal communication with Craig Packer; see Packer’s 2004 Powerpoint presentation, attached).  Small, intensive surveys can be done at significant costs and time, but not range-wide.  Surveying is not done on a large scale and the fecundity of the species makes population surveying impractical and less relevant to practical management.

We agree that Riggio, et al (2013) “provides the most recent, most comprehensive estimates to date of free-ranging lion populations in Africa,” pg. 64478.  That has not changed in the commenting interval, all “presumptions” and “inferences” aside.  We agree with the recognition of “strongholds” in the analysis of the status of lion.  We also agree with the conclusion that most lion, 90% of the estimated 35,000, exist in Southern and Eastern Africa.  That population is estimated at 35,000 and most are in strongholds considered secure for 100 years or more – twice beyond 2050, chosen by FWS.  That is a significant number of lion and strongholds when determining the true risk status of lion.  We must disagree that the lion is “threatened” with extinction today or that it will be at risk of extinction in 2050 or even 2106.  By example, the number of wolves and grizzly bear in the United States pales in comparison to the number of lion today in protected areas in Southern and Eastern Africa, and those species are thought to be relatively secure for 100 years.  Lion also exist in protected areas that are being expanded and that far exceed the protected area of wolves and grizzly bear in the United States.  With the lion strongholds, there will likely be far more still secure lion in 2050 than there will be grizzly or wolves.

Briefly stated, our studied analysis is that there have been too few lion in Western and Central Africa for too long to be considered a “significant population,” hence to be treated as a rationale for listing other populations as “threatened.”  On the other hand, Eastern and Southern Africa, where populations are significant and there are 10 strongholds in enormously large protected areas fortified by even greater hunting zones of habitat and prey, lion are secure, thus should not be listed at all.  Though they may be impacted negatively by threats common to all lion, those threats do not have common levels of impact and those in Southern and Eastern Africa are below the “threatened” impact threshold.

Biology/Ecology

There is one glaring and important omission in this section.  The lion has an extraordinarily high fecundity.  This helps ensure its long-term existence, but at the same time contributes to its boom or bust population characteristic.  Depending upon its prey base of large-bodied mammals, a population can double in the period of two successive population surveys.  This productivity is too important to ignore in the listing process, so it is a significant oversight in the analysis.  It makes it far less vulnerable to endangerment.  A second omission is the natural turnover of lion, i.e. compensation.  Adult males have a very short tenure.

Diet and Prey

We fully agree that “prey availability is likely the primary determinant of lion density,” (citations omitted) and that “is perhaps the primary factor that determines the ranging behavior of large carnivores,” pg. 64480.  It also contributes to the boom or bust characteristic of lion populations that has been ignored in the listing rationale.

Habitat

We fully agree that the lion has lost range and habitat, but disagree that the loss threatens or will threaten the lion in Southern and Eastern Africa by 2050 under the ESA.  Southern and Eastern Africa have the largest protected areas in the world and those areas are permanent and are intended and expected to perpetually provide adequate large-bodied prey.  Those core protected areas are further fortified by surrounding protected hunting areas and various CBNRM program areas.  The loss of habitat threat is not “significant” as used (“is likely to become a significant threat,” pg. 64482) when such large, suitable habitat is secure.  The recognition of habitat loss or habitat likely-to-be-lost is sound, but should not be a controlling finding in Southern and Eastern Africa.  The measure of a threat is the loss of essential or critical habitat, not any and all available or potential habitat.  The lion has been secured from ever becoming endangered from loss of habitat by the greatest habitat protection areas in the world.  If the countries were analyzed country-by-country, the mass of the protected areas would have to be considered.  One cannot imagine more secure habitat for such a species.  The countries should be recognized for that effort.  Moreover, the number and extent of appropriate habitat is on the increase in Southern and Eastern Africa, as previously pointed out.  There will always be habitat and prey in Southern and Eastern Africa, so lion will never be genuinely in danger there.  The threatened listing would create a fiction.

Human-Lion Conflict

We agree that human-lion conflict “is the greatest threat to remaining lion populations,” pg. 64482, but do not agree that it constitutes an ESA “threatened” listing level threat in Eastern and Southern Africa.  Significant lion populations are secure and are growing in some locations despite this category of impact.  This success is as sure as the decline in other areas and will ensure the long-term survival as surely as it has ensured the short-term survival of the lion.  The negative impact of the human-lion conflict is certain, but so is the fact that the lion can and have been secured from that negative impact where 90% of its population exists.  More lion populations can still be secured and grown.  They must survive in the short-term to exist in the long-term.  Human-lion conflict can be controlled and reduced and has been demonstrated to be containable (see materials on Bubye, Save, LIFE Plus Project, et al. in prior Conservation Force comments).

 Deleterious Effects Due to Small Population Sizes

We agree that the MVP of the African lion has “not been formally established and agreed upon by species experts,” pg. 64488, citations omitted.  We disagree that the existence of small populations constitutes a sufficient threat warranting listing.  Rather, the existence of much larger populations in strongholds far, far greater than the arbitrary 50 prides should preclude listing because other, smaller populations may be at risk.

It is one thing to recognize that small populations face a greater risk and another to state a species is threatened because it has many small populations, unless, of course, there are no larger populations.  (We are also concerned that the 4(d) Rule may increase the risk to smaller populations as they are not likely to any longer have the benefit of sport-hunting because of the operation of the proposed Special Rule.)

Range Countries

We understand from personal communication that Zimbabwe authorities have suspended hunting in the area of Gonarezhou, while recent estimates in Bubye and Save Valley Conservancy demonstrate both populations to still be increasing.  Zimbabwe has also developed a two-tiered quota approach, much like in Tanzania and Mozambique, i.e. on top of the quota limit, Zimbabwe has added an age restriction of five years.

Benin and Burkina Faso have reduced their quotas and have also added an age limit of six years.  We understand that a recent 2014 survey in Burkina Faso shows a significant increase in the lion population in the tri-national protected area.

We also understand that 2014 population surveys in the Selous demonstrate lion populations greater than though and anticipated (personal communication).

Recent surveys in Niassa show a continuing increase that has been growing at a steady rate for nearly a decade (see attached).

 Quotas

It should be noted for clarification that Tanzania has a two-tiered quota approach.  That is far more restrictive than just a numerical harvest limit.  For the past three consecutive years, the safari hunting offtake has been approximately 50 lion because of the six-year age limit with penal provisions that has been modified to a more graduated penalty approach like that made popular in Mozambique.  Established quotas continue to decline across the range of lion.  The institution of new, burdensome permits and informational requirements is a wholly inappropriate response to that.

Potential Impacts of Trophy Hunting

We wholly agree that trophy hunting is not a threat to the lion.  It is more strictly conducted today than at any time in the past and the hunting community itself has led this effort.  Though not noted in the proposal, the hunting community itself has been the foremost leader in lion conservation.  No interest has invested more in lion conservation or been invested for a longer period of time.  Just compare the long-term investment of the safari hunting industry with the relatively newer interest like Panthera, founded in 2006, and National Geographic’s Great Cats Initiative, founded in 2009.  Subjective antagonism toward sustainable use by some and confusion about it by others does not change the important value of it as a conservation measure.  Shepherds eat sheep, but there can be no denying that they are the shepherds and are essential to sheep conservation.

Neither the clamor of animal rights groups nor the antagonism of some protectionists, or some bullies, in the scientific community can change the reality that the hunting community consists of genuine stakeholders that have initiated and participated in the modern trends in lion conservation including management planning and conservation action planning at regional, national and local levels, anti-poaching, habitat preservation, aging research, etc.  In fact, it is hard to imagine the status of the lion today if it were not for the role and benefits of safari hunting.

The FWS recognizes that the land “currently designated for use in sport hunting has helped to reduce…the impact of habitat loss for the African lion,” pg. 64492.  It then goes on to state that the sport hunting has not eliminated “the impact of habitat loss,” 64492.  Though it has not eliminated the loss of all habitats, of course, it has protected enough habitat that the proposed listing is not because of its status of habitat today, but by 2050.  Unless the FWS itself jeopardizes range countries’ regulated trophy trade, hunting directly and indirectly ensures the long-term survival of lion.  To date, regulated hunting has contributed to the lion not being in danger.  Nowhere is this more evident than in RSA.  As long as there is hunting, there will be lion.  Despite human-lion conflict and the negative impacts, many thousands of lion in RSA today exist because of trophy hunting and only because of trophy hunting.  They will always exist, therefore, they are not at risk of endangerment in that country.  Moreover, revenue from that trophy hunting can be used and will shortly be used to fund lion conservation in other countries under various plans Conservation Force is advising on similar to its Ranching for Restoration Program.

The proposal states that “hunting alone will not address all the issues that are contributing to the declined status of the species,” pg. 64492.  It has nevertheless largely contributed to the very existence of most lion today, particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa.  We respectfully suggest that Eastern and Southern African lion are not threatened today and will not be in 2050, and should not be listed as “threatened” because hunting has been such a conservation engine.  One has to be careful that hunting does not become threatened where it is needed the most and hence the lion suffer as a consequence.  The lion needs hunting.

More issues keep arising over the validity of the so-called six-year age approach.  See attached material from Anne Innis Dagg questioning the infanticide hypothesis in lions.  Moreover, a number of field scientists have expressed that the taking of younger males has not had the assumed negative effect on the overall population (Bubye Valley Conservancy).

Captive Lions

We agree that “[i]t may be possible that captive lions could also serve a purpose of generating revenue for in-situ conservation,” as stated on page 64493.  We are privy to several efforts in RSA to direct a percentage of the revenue from the hunting of captive-bred lion directly to lion conservation efforts in the wild.  Potentially, this could generate millions of dollars a year for planning and execution of lion conservation in the wild.  The existing captive breeding most certainly refutes the conclusion that lion will ever be endangered.  Rather, it ensures there will always be lion.  Peter Jackson, the father of the Cat Specialist Group of IUCN, was fond of stating that tigers would never be in danger of extinction if they were sport hunted.  It could be a sure way to save them like the lion in RSA.

Finding

We agree that there are three main threats impacting lion: habitat loss, prey base loss and human-lion conflict.  We disagree that the level of the threats or negative impact of the threats raises to the level of threatening the species under the ESA.  It is not threatened with extinction now and will not be in 2050.  Recognizing negative impacts is not measuring the level of respective impacts, much less finding the crossing of any threshold of endangerment.  An ESA threat should be more than an impact, even if it is common.

A significant number of Eastern and Southern African range nations have taken innumerable conservation actions in the past decade.  Such conservation efforts have been unprecedented and are uncommonly proactive.  Witness the Regional Workshops in 2006, the national action planning since the regional planning, the workshops on the age-based approach to trophy selection that adds a second “double tier” and in turn reduces total offtake, community tolerance, et al.  More sites are evolving where lion populations are actually being grown, such as in private and communal conservancies in Zimbabwe, RSA and Namibia.  The lion is not in danger of extinction or becoming extinct in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, RSA, Botswana, et al., so it is not in danger or threatened “throughout all its range,” pg. 64500.  The loss of all lions in those range countries is not conceivable.  The listing of the respective countries’ lion has not been analyzed on a country-by-country basis and does not withstand analysis.  The fact that the range countries have similar kinds of negative impacts does not measure if the threatened threshold of impact has been crossed in each respective country to warrant listing in its entire range.

Proposed 4(d) Rule

Though we do not agree that the African lion is genuinely at risk of being in danger of extinction in Southern and Eastern Africa, we are far more concerned with the resulting proposed Special Rule.  Though the FWS may not be able to consider the efficacy of the listing in making a listing determination, the positive and negative effects are an appropriate consideration when adopting a Special Rule that is supposed to benefit the species.  We are concerned that the Special Rule can be and will be a threat to the survival of the African lion and believe me, our interest is first and foremost the survival of the lion.  We anticipate that the proposed rule could eliminate the life ring of most lion in Africa, safari or sport hunting.

There can be no genuine dispute that trophy hunting has been and continues to be a great benefit to lion in all the ways enumerated by the FWS itself, pages 64489-64494.  Now the new emerging issue is whether the regulation will delay and/or prevent most of the existing trophy hunting that has served the lion so well.  Lion need the hunting, not just those that muster up to rigid standards with high costs.  This includes hunting’s contribution toward habitat, reduction in human-lion conflict, protection and provision of lion prey, anti-poaching, management budget revenue and much more.  Any potential negative impact of hunting today is not population-wide and less and less likely today with all the planning, reduced two-tiered quotas and local interest.  What is equally certain is the downside to the proposed import permit requirement.

The proposal admits that, although the permit applicant has the burden of proof for an import application, it will “primarily rely on information from other sources when making a permitting decision,” pg. 64501.  We are not sure what that means or the sense intended, but it certainly means delay, costs, dependence on others with their own limits of capacity, interests and priorities.  The import permit requirement is likely to obstruct trophy hunting and the realized conservation purposes it has been serving, i.e. negatively affect many, if not most populations.

Lion do not lend themselves to population surveying and the costs and utility of population surveying is of question with the boom and bust nature and high fecundity of lion populations.  As pointed out earlier, a particular lion population can double during two sequential surveys to determine trend and, of course, lion trends are inherently erratic.  Population surveys have long been considered impractical.  See Craig Packer material attached dating back to 2004: “Bottom Line: lion populations cannot be accurately estimated; quotas can never be set scientifically.”  How can the FWS make country-wide population surveying and trending a minimum requirement?

The proposal recognizes that smaller lion populations are more vulnerable, Deleterious Effects Due to Small Population Sizes, pgs. 64487-88.  We fully agree.  Burdensome documentation requirements for import permitting of the numerous smaller populations in developing countries can have but one result: no permits, no lion in short order.  Those populations need a boost of incentive and budgeting, not first world standards and requirements.

The proposal recognizes that lion hunting offtake is miniscule today, charts pgs. 64489 and 64490.  Such low harvest levels and the falling trend arising from the second tier of age restriction make it even more impractical to fund burdensome and expensive import permit criteria.  Added import permit criteria would only serve as a poorly disguised ban.  Lion decline will follow and a negative, downward population spiral can be expected.

Today, lion trophy hunting is seen as one of the principal conservation tools for lion and is embodied in the regional, national and local action plans as such.  It exists and serves best without any added regulatory burden/barrier adding costs, delay, trophy seizures for clerical irregularities, population surveys, staffing for annual documentation, et al.  Unlike Tajikistan or Mongolia that have just one or two trophy species (argali) to track and endlessly supply information about, African countries have dozens.  African countries have a wealth of flora and fauna that they manage and are inundated with import country informational demands.  The authorities can literally be “put out of business” by adding to their overall administrative burden, much less a very high and expensive burden for only 6 to 50 trophies of animals that are likely to die in 24 months regardless of hunting offtake (compensation).

Though it may be noble to suggest permitting for well-intended, manipulative requirements, the exporting country, its programs and its people – and the lion – will have to bear that arbitrary cost and cannot operate beyond their capacity or scientific state of the art.  We fear that many, if not most lion will cease to exist if permits are required as proposed.  Our concerns arise from fact-based experience in FWS trophy import permitting, and no one outside of FWS has more of that experience than Conservation Force.  Witness the import permitting of Canadian wood bison denied by FWS to avoid “controversy” according to the District Court.  Witness Niassa Reserve threatened elephant import permits because the entire country of Mozambique’s failure to have a “countrywide…actual count showing a stable or increasing trend.”  Witness the current suspension of importation of Zimbabwe elephant based upon “anecdotal information” (misinformation, largely from media).  It has been permitting policy to shelve applications for permits or treat them as abandoned when unspecified information is not furnished with permit applications not calling for the information.  When the documentation is not possible, neither is the permit – period.  The FWS has a history of showing no remorse.

Lion hunting is working.  No one contributes more to lion conservation or are greater and surer stakeholders than hunters.  Few if any species have had their conservation revved up like the lion.  There are too few lion being taken in two few locations to unnecessarily add to the administrative burden of undeveloped countries.

There are less burdensome alternatives like the Periodic Review Process of the CITES Animals Committee, but please, not both.  Don’t overload and hence sink the ship.

The Notice states that “the Service has determined that a 4(d) rule is appropriate,” pg. 64500, without one iota of reasoning or rationale.  What is the special cause that overrides the special limit of the Dingell Amendment in the ESA limiting FWS authority to require an import permit?  There is no rationale to comment on.  It is the import permit requirement for a non-commercial activity that so concerns us and that concerned the author of the Endangered Species Acts of 1973 and those that preceded it.  Section 9(c)(2) of the ESA is a law and a policy against requiring an import permit for non-commercial imports without good cause.

In a few short paragraphs, the proposal states “we want to encourage and support efforts by these countries to develop plans that are based on sound scientific information,” pg. 64501.  Contradictorily, it suggests limiting issuance of permits only to “countries that have management plans that are based on scientifically sound data and are being implemented to address the threats that are facing lions within that country.”  In short, it must be more than sustainable.  Imports will not be permitted unless more is shown than sustainability.

The proposal states that “the Service typically has made the required findings on sport-hunted trophy imports on a country-wide basis…,” pg. 64501 (emphasis added).  This, like the Niassa example we cite elsewhere, would prevent lion from being imported from Niassa because the population of lion trend in another, distant part of Mozambique was not documented to FWS to its satisfaction.  The population in the Serengeti areas could not be hunted because an uncertain population was not scientifically documented to be increasing in the Selous.

Director’s Comments

We are deeply concerned with the comments of the Director at the Press Conference on the date of issuance of the proposal, USFWS African Lion Press Conference Transcript, 10-27-14, attached.  Director Ashe stated that permits would only be issued to countries where the hunting “provides proven benefits to the overall lion population,” pg.4, and “the countries have to provide clear evidence that…revenues from sport hunting support on the ground lion conservation and research and benefits local communities.”  The Director went on to state that “the most important thing that we would look for is that they have good population data….So that would be the same you know the same (sic) standard that we apply to ourselves in the US….We will be looking at what they do with the revenues….What they have to show us is that there is a clear conservation benefit to the activity…not just that its sustainable in some context.  But the activity is contributing constructively to conservation of the species in the wild…,” pg.7.

“But what we want to see is that the populations are sustainable and that the activity…is contributing directly and substantially to conservation of the species in the wild,” pg.7.

This appears to be an “enhancement” (“proven benefits”) requirement and to require “good population data” (“the most important thing”).  This is a tremendous and costly imposition that has not been justified in the Federal Register Notice.  Even had it been justified in the Notice, it would hurt more than help the species.  The population and countries that need the hunting the most will be penalized because of costs and time of such data collection and proof of benefits.

Stringent Informational Demands are not “Encouragement”

What about the countries that cannot meet the informational demands of the permitting?  What is the effect of the 4(d) rule on their lion?

There are lots of reasons the informational demands can’t be met.  The first is the inherent difficulty, time and cost of collection of population data of a camouflage-colored, nocturnal species that does not lend itself to aerial surveying.  The rationale for the development of the age approach (six year rule, et al.) was that population surveying was not possible or practical (personal communication with Craig Packer; see attached).  It is inconsistent to now mandate population surveys and upgraded information on a magnitude never before achieved (see pg. 64476 of Notice) to encourage lion conservation, or worse, both.

Another reason is the limited administrative capacity of the undeveloped nations that have multiple plants and animals that need the benefits of trade and require more and more information and administrative staffing.  We keep heaping requirements on them.  The use of their resources has to be prioritized and allocated.  The fewer the lion and higher the cost of satisfying the difficult and ambiguous informational demands of the FWS, the less likely beneficial trade will/can continue.  These countries with lion already operate the largest protected areas in the world at a loss.  This will add to that cost and loss.

The requirement of country-wide information makes the regulatory documentation requirement that much more onerous and unlikely to be fulfilled.  An example would be its application as the requirement that there be documented proof of a positive population trend in Hwange National Park and country-wide before import permits can be granted for lion taken in SAVE and Bubye Valley Conservancies in Zimbabwe.  Another is the requirement of country-wide trend data before lion (like elephant) can be imported from Niassa Reserve or worse, the requirement of an “actual population count” demonstrating a positive population trend in Tete Province before lion (like elephant) can be imported from Niassa.  The hunting community has abandoned all efforts at ever importing elephant hunting trophies from Niassa, and so it will be with the lion in most instances.  The lion will perish.

The FWS Division of Management Authority has a long history of delay in permitting and poor communication with both permit applicants and range countries.  It takes ages to complete the process, issues ambiguous requests for information and will not readily share its communication and information with the unfortunate applicant.  It has admitted to permitting being a “low priority” and even that permits for threatened listed species are ordinarily to be “disfavored.”  The African nations don’t need that kind of help/”encouragement.”

Pending Red List Review

Those of us who have seen the draft Red List review are not permitted to discuss or disclose it.  Anything we state about it or about what someone has said in their posted comments would be a breach, so undersigned is not even able to comment about comments by others that may prejudice the FWS.  Consequentially, if upon receiving the Red List Review the FWS thinks there is anything in it that affects its determination of the proposal or Special Rule, positively or negatively, then we think the comment period should be reopened.  In the interim, the FWS should not consider prejudicial innuendo about what cannot be disclosed, examined and fairly discussed.  Worse, suggestions about the Review give it undue importance and unwarranted effect.  We urge you not to let inappropriate suggestions about it prejudice the outcome of the comment period.

Thank you for your attention to these comments on this important matter.

Respectfully,

John J. Jackson, III
Conservation Force and those it represents
3240 S. I-10 Service Rd. W., Suite 200
Metairie, LA 70001-6911
Tel: 504-837-1233
Fax: 504-837-1145
Email: cf@conservationforce.org

BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
John J. Jackson, III, J.D.
Philippe Chardonnet, D.V.M.
Gerhard Damm
Bert Klineburger
Shane Mahoney
Dale  Toweill, Ph.D.


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