Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope [bureaucrats] play,
Where seldom [often] is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day[activists now hold sway].
Brewster Higley (1823–1911), who penned the cowboy anthem “My Western Home,” would undoubtedly be distressed to learn that a new regulation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) makes a lie of his wistful lyrics.
No longer can antelope frolic on the range without a federal permit.
In all fairness, the FWS is not really to blame for this assault on ungulate independence. Since 2005, in fact, when the scimitar horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelle were listed under the Endangered Species Act, the agency has exempted ranchers from numerous prohibitions that would otherwise restrict their repopulation efforts (e.g., export or re-import; delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or shipment in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity and sale or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce).
The FWS wisely recognized that fewer regulatory obstacles would assist ranchers in replenishing antelope species that have been largely depleted in their native habitat (north African deserts, most notably). Ranchers have been allowed to stock zoos and wildlife refuges and export the animals to their native lands without seeking government approval at every turn. The agency also allowed them to generate some of the revenue needed to feed and vaccinate the herds by holding private hunts of surplus, older, non-breeding animals, as well as those with poor genetic traits.
But such “profiteering”—even in support of animal rescue—was anathema to Friends of Animals, a group that claims “to cultivate a respectful view of nonhuman animals.” Notwithstanding the success of the FWS policy, the group, in concert with the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, sued the agency for failing to solicit public comment on rancher exemptions in alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Consequently, the court ordered the agency to force ranchers to jump the multitude of bureaucratic hoops that render the act a regulatory nightmare. Specifically, the FWS must now solicit public comment whenever a rancher (or zoo or wildlife refuge) seeks an exemption from the ESA.
We know what that means: protracted delays and onerous expenses for the folks who actually save animals from extinction as opposed to, say, Friends of Animals, who are far more interested in protecting regulation than endangered species.
In his comment to the proposed rule, Joe Riekers, of Hondo, Texas, echoed the sentiments of dozens of ranchers who likewise submitted letters to the FWS: “I had a substantial herd of scimitar horned oryx and addax on my ranch,” he wrote. “Once the court ruling came out, I sold all the animals from each herd because I did not know what to expect. If…there is a tedious permit process, I will not re-invest in these species.”
Meanwhile, Friends of Animals is celebrating its legal victory.