On September 19, 2012 the USFWS made and published a positive 90-day finding for two petitions to de-list the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax by removing the captive-bred and captive populations in the US. The finding said the petitions presented “substantial information indicating that de-listing the US captive animals or US captive-bred members of these species may be warranted.” The service also initiated a status review of the US population for the 12-month requirement. It did not set a deadline for comments or information, nor did it designate a USFWS point person to whom to direct comments and information. Information can be sent by postal mail to UFS&WS, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203. See Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on Petitions to Delist US Captive Populations of the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Dama Gazelle, and Addax, 77 FR 58084, September 19, 2012.
This is a welcome development. It arises from two separate petitions to downlist the US population and three separate but consolidated lawsuits by the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA), SCI and Terry Owen. When the listing was initially proposed, the hunting community (including Conservation Force and its allied partner organizations) urged that the captive bred population in the US be excluded, to no avail. Instead, the three were listed along with a Special Rule exempting ranches from permitting. Now that the Special Rule exempting ranches from the need to permit has been struck down in litigation, the EWA Downlisting Petition asks the USFWS to revisit the listing because “[t]he Final Rule listing these three antelope as endangered leaves no doubt that the exemption…was integral to USFWS’ decision to list the three antelope (citing page 52320). In fact, it is likely that without the exemption USFWS would not have listed the three species at all.”
The USFWS did not act on the petitions within 90 days, so suits were filed to enforce both petitions. The 90-day finding comes after more than two years. That means the prescribed time to make a 12-month finding has also already passed.
On June 12, 2012, the District Court approved settlement of the claims that the USFWS had missed the 90-day deadline, 1:12-cv-003040-BAH, Docket No. 95. The court-approved settlement provided that the 90-day determination would be submitted to the Federal Register by August 31. The settlement also provided that the already past due 12-month finding be submitted for publication to the Federal Register Office by May 31, 2013. That is the date the USFWS will either deny the petition or issue a proposed rule itself to downlist the species. If the 12-month determination in May/June is positive, a final downlisting determination should be published in June 2014 (one year after the 12-month determination) and effective 30 to 90 days after that if the three species are downlisted. A new Administration could expedite the late 12- and 24-month determinations.
Whether or not the three are downlisted, Conservation Force will continue to assist ranchers with the necessary permitting, reporting, renewing and with establishing and monitoring related conservation projects for the three species in the wild in their countries of origin. It is critical that the US populations be secure if they are to be downlisted or delisted as a distinct, recovered population segment or range as the downlisting petitions claim. The status and management of the three antelope are under a microscope from now until it is over in June 2014. One thing is certain: the burden on the USFWS created by the captive breeding regulations and the take permitting is many times greater than the USFWS anticipated. It is important that ranchers acquire their permits to operate within the law and remain good stewards of these three antelope. If you need the permit applications and/or assistance, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-837-1233.