CITES downlisted cape mountain zebra to Appendix II.
By Regina Lennox
On May 10, 2017, Conservation Force submitted two petitions to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to request action for species recently down-listed by the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES. Our petitions seek to bring US law in line with CITES by deregulating imports for these species. The petitioned actions will facilitate imports of hunting trophies of Cape mountain zebra and Canadian wood bison.
The first petition, filed jointly with the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, seeks delisting (or alternatively, down-listing) for Cape mountain zebra. This species is endemic to South Africa. It has recovered from near extinction in the 1950s to 4,800 individuals today across 76 subpopulations. Three-quarters of those subpopulations are privately owned. The species' growth has exceeded recovery goals set in a 2002 IUCN action plan.
The main threats to Cape mountain zebra are disease, hybridization, and inbreeding. Those risks are being mitigated through adoption of a 2016 Biodiversity Management Plan. This plan addresses fragmentation concerns by managing the species as a metapopulation. It focuses on research and exchange of genetic material across subpopulations.
The zebra's continued recovery is now constrained because it is nearing the carrying capacity of much of its habitat. At CoP17, South Africa proposed down-listing to Appendix II of CITES to enable regulated international trade in Cape mountain zebra, particularly in hunting trophies. There is little off-take now (approximately 12 zebra in five years), but research indicates that private landowners will expand their zebra herds, or will establish new zebra subpopulations, if the species generates economic value through regulated hunting. The species' range will increase, and there will be incentives to continue to grow the population. South Africa is currently working with private owners of zebra populations to establish sustainable hunting off-take and export quotas.
In support of our petition, we submitted documents including South Africa's management plan, CITES proposal, population off-take calculator, population status reports, and more. We demonstrated that none of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing factors are met for Cape mountain zebra. It simply is not at risk of extinction, now or in the "foreseeable future." Its habitat is secure, utilization is almost non-existent, increased utilization will actually benefit the species, disease and predation threats are being mitigated, and international/national/provincial regulations are effective. The species has experienced decades of population growth-almost 10% per year in the 2009-2015 period. In 2015, South Africa assessed the zebra as "least concern" on its national list of at-risk species. We argued that it is time to update the 1976 ESA "endangered" listing.
We propose complete delisting, which would open up imports as the ESA would not apply (except as it implements CITES), or alternatively, down-listing to "threatened." Down-listing will support regulated hunting and generate conservation incentives for the species because a threatened-listed species that is listed on Appendix II may be imported without an FWS import permit under Section 9(c)(2) of the ESA. See 16 U.S.C. § 1538(c)(2).
Our second petition requests a special rule to allow imports of Canadian wood bison trophies without an FWS permit or enhancement finding. At CoP17, the wood bison was removed completely from the CITES Appendices. The CITES Parties acknowledged the extremely limited international trade and generally stable population recovery for the species. But because it is no longer listed on Appendix II, the "threatened"-listed wood bison no longer qualifies for the import permit exception under Section 9(c)(2). It is now subject to the general FWS regulation that imposes all the same requirements on threatened species that apply to endangered species. See 50 C.F.R. § 17.31.
Canadian wood bison was removed from CITES Appendices by CoP17.
To put the species in the same position as before it was delisted from CITES, Conservation Force and the Yukon Outfitters Association requested the FWS adopt a special rule to waive this general permit requirement. We pointed out that the species is in an even better position than when it was down-listed to "threatened" in 2013. Its habitat is generally stable. Utilization is carefully regulated, and hunting (resident and nonresident) is used as a management tool to maintain separation between wood bison herds and their threats and keep population numbers in check. The species' main threats-disease and hybridization-are kept under control through national and provincial regulations and monitoring. These threats will be further mitigated by research to eradicate diseases and maintain genetic integrity. Canada has managed the species effectively at the provincial and national level. A new Recovery Strategy was proposed in 2016, and will guide the species' recovery into the future.
Most importantly, international trade in wood bison is negligible. As we explained in the petition, adopting a special rule will decrease the FWS' regulatory burden and encourage US hunters to engage in the limited, management-driven hunting that does not threaten the species.
We submitted numerous documents in support of this petition. These included a recent assessment by a council of scientists that concluded the wood bison is no longer "threatened" in Canada. It was assessed as a species of "special concern." (Canada's government is currently considering whether to down-list the wood bison under the Species at Risk Act, to "special concern," a step below "threatened.")
In response to our petition to delist the Cape mountain zebra, the FWS will make a 90-day finding. Typically, the "90-day finding" may take six months or even a year. If the FWS finds the petition presents "substantial information" that delisting or down-listing is warranted, it will initiate a status review. It will request that interested persons and the range state submit information on the ESA listing factors. After the status review, the FWS will propose delisting or down-listing and solicit public comments on the proposal. In response to our petition for a special rule for wood bison, the FWS does not need to make a 90-day finding but must act within a "reasonable time." It may then seek public comments on a proposed special rule.
In any event, to go through these processes is likely to take two or three years. Until then, an ESA "endangered" import permit is needed to import Cape mountain zebra hunting trophies. A "threatened" import permit is needed to import wood bison hunting trophies.
The irony of the wood bison permit requirement is that Conservation Force initially established import of these trophies when the species was listed as "endangered" under the ESA. Now that the wood bison has been de-listed from CITES, ESA import permits have become necessary once again! Conservation Force will of course go the next round, until the job is done.
These petitions are available on Conservation Force's website at http://www.conservationforce.org/news-updates-alerts.