The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a setback last week to groups hoping to delist U.S. populations of the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax.
On May 31, the USFWS denied Safari Club International’s petition to delist the U.S. populations of the three antelope.
In the same decision, the FWS rejected a similar delisting petition submitted by the Exotic Wildlife Association.
The Service’s decision blamed this latest blow to conservation on the Endangered Species Act itself. The FWS claimed that the ESA prevents the agency from separately classifying captive from wild populations. Since the three antelope species in the wild require federal protection, the captive populations must be subjected to the same restrictions – even if such requirements undermine the conservation of both captive and wild members.
“The FWS’s decision is not a failure of the agency, but a failure of an antiquated law that needs to be modernized to deal with modern wildlife conservation needs in America,” said SCI President Craig Kauffman. “Conservationists around the country hope that the House-led Endangered Species Act Working Group can identify credible solutions for modern wildlife management.”
The FWS listed the three species as endangered in 2005 but spared the U.S. populations from typical ESA take prohibitions by adopting regulations that allowed hunting of captive members to continue without permit requirements. The Service created the exceptions in recognition that the hunting and trade of U.S. members of the three species were beneficial to the species’ conservation and survival. The three species increased in population and herd numbers until a lawsuit filed by animal rights groups put an end to those regulations. As a result of that lawsuit, the FWS imposed permit requirements on the take and trade of U.S. populations. The permit obligations and federally protected status of the three species persuaded many private ranchers to abandon their efforts to raise and breed their herds.
In 2011, SCI filed its own lawsuit to challenge the illegal listing of the U.S. populations. A ruling in that case is imminent. SCI also petitioned the FWS to delist the captive populations, based on the Service’s legal errors in including the U.S. captive members in the listing of the species in the wild. The FWS’s response to that petition has placed yet another obstacle in the way of those who have, through private efforts, brought the three species back from near extinction.
“SCI has been fighting legal battles to conserve the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax for over a decade. The role that sustainable hunting has played in the conservation of the three antelope species is at the heart of SCI’s missions. The Service’s unfortunate decision today has only strengthened our resolve to fight on” concluded Kauffman.