Lawsuit seeks to shut down Trump wildlife protection board

NEW YORK, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to shut down U.S. President Donald Trump's board advising on federal rules for importing big game, saying it is stacked with trophy hunters and politically connected donors and cannot serve the public interest.

The lawsuit said the "deceptively named" International Wildlife Conservation Council created last November by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke actually promotes the hunting of and importing of body parts from "imperiled species" such as African elephants, lions and rhinos.

It said the 17-member council violates a 1972 federal law designed to curb White House use of advisory panels to set national policy, and should lose its powers and charter.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department referred a request for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to subsequent requests.

SEE ALSO: Office of Special Counsel opens case file over Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's sock tweet

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society, all non-profit.

Zinke, a hunter and former Montana congressman, has said the council would advise on the benefits of international recreational hunting, and how American hunters "benefit international conservation from boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation."

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US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
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US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The council's mission included providing advice on removing import barriers for legally hunted wildlife, streamlining the permitting process and lifting unneeded import bans, as well as combating illegal trafficking and poaching.

According to federal records, council members include Paul Babaz, president of Safari Club International; Erica Rhoad, director of hunting policy at the National Rifle Association; and Steven Chancellor, a Republican fundraiser.

The White House has sent mixed signals on the importing of big game.

On March 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban to allow the importing of trophies such as elephant tusks and lion hides, extending prior administration approval for imports of elephant parts from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

But it also conflicted with a Nov. 19, 2017 tweet, after the Zambia and Zimbabwe approval, in which Trump said he would be "very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal."

Trump's adult sons are also trophy hunters.

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Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle together
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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: Donald Trump, Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle attend the DC premiere of the film, 'Death of a Nation,' at E Street Cinema on August 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images)
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The case is Natural Resources Defense Council et al v Zinke et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-06903. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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