Whatever other good or bad provisions the 2014 Omnibus Budget bill that President Obama has now signed contains, it has one excellent provision: good for sportsmen and good for species facing extinction in their native lands.
The 2014 Omnibus removes endangered species protection from three select species: the scimitar horned oryx, the Dama gazelle and the addax. How can this be good for species you say? Let me give you some background.
In 2005, the FWS listed three foreign species: the Dama Gazelle, the Scimitar-Horned Oryx and the Addax as endangered, at the same time the agency adopted a rule that would exempt captive members of the three species in the United States from ordinary ESA restrictions. Though nearly extinct throughout the various ranges of their native country’s (where they are supposedly protected by law), these three species thrived on private ranches in Texas where — treated as private property, indeed, livestock — they were raised on spreads large and small, for hunting and breeding. Their populations had done so well, in fact that a number of them were shipped back to their native lands for restocking. Unfortunately, this success was threatened by the misguided and inane efforts of animal rights wackos using a poorly written law – the Endangered Species Act.
HSUS and Friends of Animals filed suit to challenge that rule. Their goal was to prevent the hunting of individual animals, regardless of the cost to the species as a whole. The court found find that hunting these species was legal and rejected HSUS and Friends’ assertions that hunting in the U.S. encouraged poaching or brought any other harm to members of the species outside of the U.S. The court also rejected the animal rights groups’ allegations that they were harmed by the hunting of the species in the United States. That should have been the end of the case since neither group was found to have standing, the lawsuit should have be summarily dismissed. Unfortunately, this did not occur.
The Court did ruled in the two groups’ favor on one critical point. The judge decided that the ESA does not allow a blanket exemption to endangered species prohibitions and that those who wish to hunt or otherwise conduct activities that amount to a “taking” of these three antelope species, must apply for an individual enhancement of survival permit from the FWS. The judge ruled that because the permit applications must be published in the Federal Register, the notice of the application makes it possible for individuals and groups to comment on the proposed activities. As a matter of law, the judge may have been correct, I’m not a lawyer and cannot say. As a matter of policy, this was potentially disastrous — for the species, and, to some extent for the ranchers who now own what became nothing more than expensive living lawn ornaments.
Hunting is technically still legal but the additional bureaucracy and delays introduced by the application and Federal Register notice procedures will made it more difficult and more expensive for ranchers to raise these animals. Many ranchers with existing herds no longer wished to raise and breed these animals. Many ranchers offered discount (basically cull) hunts for the species in order to clear them from their properties and the cost of continuing to feed them (they compete with the other “valuable” wildlife and domestic livestock for feed and browse — and Texas is in a serious drought) before the ruling became final. Three is some evidence that others contemplated capturing and gelding or neutering, their remaining stock of these species so they wouldn’t breed. As a result, in just two years since the ruling there a dramatic decline in the number of herds and ultimately the number of animals in the U.S. For instance, The Exotic Wildlife Association estimates that scimitar horned oryx numbers in Texas are now at nearly half of their 2010 levels.
In this case, scientific management (FWS did approve of managing the species as private property) and markets combined for the good of the species, it seems, only to be undone by the courts.
Now thanks to the efforts of Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31), the author of the provision and his colleagues in the House and Senate, especially Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX-32) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA-42), and John Cornyn in the Senate (who insisted that this provision remain part of the bill), the court’s ruling and the foolish efforts
The antelope were exempt from the Endangered Species Act from 2005 until 2012 during which time populations experienced dramatic growth in the United States. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to remove the exemption due to legal action that prompted a cumbersome and lengthy permitting process all of which led to a dramatic decrease in populations. For example, Scimitar horned oryx numbers in Texas are now at nearly half of 2010 levels.
As Representative Carter has stated, “This legislation gets big government out of the way so that ranchers can begin working to bring these rare antelope populations back to former levels. This has been a long time in coming – but we got it done.”
Congress got this one right and one can hope they use it to help all other foreign endangered species as well.