Washington D.C.--(Ammoland.com)- On Friday, June 3, 2016, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a significant ruling concerning the plight of three endangered species of antelope – the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax. The D.C. Circuit decided that Congress did not violate the U.S. Constitution when it passed a law directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to reinstate a rule that allows individuals to hold and participate in hunts of members of U.S. captive herds of the three antelope species, without the need to obtain individual Endangered Species Act (ESA) permits. The court’s ruling upholds the legality of the highly successful sustainable-use program that has resulted in the three species thriving on private ranches in Texas and other U.S. states.
SCI has been at the center of this issue for more than a decade. When the FWS first listed the three exotic antelope species as endangered in 2005, it also created a special rule allowing the hunting of members of the three species without ranch owners and hunters having to obtain individual ESA permits. Anti-hunting groups sued, alleging that the rule violated the ESA’s requirement that an individual permit is necessary for the take of each member of an endangered species. SCI joined the lawsuit as an intervenor to defend the legality of the rule. The district court agreed with the anti-hunting groups, finding that the rule violated the plaintiffs’ rights to obtain public notice and to comment on each application for a take permit. Although the rule stayed in place for several years, eventually the FWS withdrew the special permit exemption and enforced permit requirements on ranchers that sold hunts for members of their herds. The new permit requirements threatened to severely harm the tremendous progress that private ranchers and hunters had achieved in bringing the three species back from near extinction.
Subsequently, SCI filed its own lawsuit to challenge the FWS’s decision to include the U.S. captive herds of the three antelope in the endangered listings of the species in the wild. After the district court upheld the endangered listings, SCI appealed that ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court. While SCI’s appeal was pending, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. In Section 127 of that bill, Congress directed the FWS to reinstate the special rule that exempted the three species from the ESA permit requirement. Anti-hunting groups went to court to challenge the constitutionality of Section 127 and SCI intervened to defend the law. Largely based on arguments advanced by SCI, the D.C. federal district court ruled that the anti-hunting groups lacked standing (i.e., injury caused by Section 127) to challenge Section 127. The Court also explained that, even if the plaintiffs had demonstrated their standing to sue, their challenges to the constitutionality of the law were meritless. The court dismissed the case.
The plaintiffs then appealed. Although one of the judges agreed with the district court (and with SCI) that the plaintiffs lacked standing, two of the three judge panel determined that the plaintiffs had alleged sufficient standing to pursue their claims. All three of the judges agreed that the three antelope law did not violate the separation of powers between the judiciary and legislative branches of government. The three judges unanimously determined that Congress acted within its constitutional authority to create a law that directed the FWS to allow the taking of members of U.S. captive herds of the three antelope species without the need for individual ESA permits.
The ruling may finally put to rest the long controversy over the fate of the three antelope species and the use of hunting to conserve them. The anti-hunting groups still have the opportunity to ask the D.C. Circuit to reconsider or the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. If they do, it is unlikely that either court would take up the case. The D.C. Circuit rarely grants reconsideration and the U.S. Supreme Court accepts only a small fraction of the cases submitted for its consideration. SCI will monitor the case and take any necessary action to make sure that the appellate court’s ruling stands and that sustainable-use conservation continues to play a role in the three species’ future.