WASHINGTON (CN) – Two wildlife groups can defend protections for captive herds of endangered antelope against a challenge by breeders, a federal judge ruled.
Friends of the Animals and Defenders of Wildlife both have “informational standing” under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act to intervene in a series of suits brought by organizations representing ranchers who breed three species of endangered antelope for trophy hunting.
The breeders previously took aim at the endangered classification of captive-bred herds of the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Addax and Dama Gazelle by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To placate ranchers, the agency had included a blanket captive-bred exemption for activities that were prohibited by the listing decision.
But Friends of the Animals and Defenders of Wildlife successfully challenged the captive-breeding exemption in 2009 when the D.C. Circuit found that the ESA required case-by-case permitting of otherwise prohibited activities for captive-bred antelopes.
The breeders reacted by challenging the original listing.
Four conservation groups had tried to intervene in the suits, but U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell found that two, the Humane Society of the United States and Born Free USA, failed to show that there was an “imminence of injury” to their members.
The antelope breeders argued that none of the conservation groups had standing to intervene because their suit concerned flaws in the original listing decision, not the appellate decision that overturned the captive-bred exemptions rule.
Claiming that the breeders hoped to circumvent the requirement to obtain prior agency consent for prohibited activities concerning the protected antelope, the would-be intervenors said this was a distinction without a difference.
If the breeders do not seek consent, the organizations say they will be in the dark about the conservation activities that are essential to the missions of their organizations.
Howell noted two instances of precedent in which the argument about critical information afforded standing to would-be intervenors.
The D.C. Circuit also supported this conclusion with the 2011 decision in ASPCA v. Feld Entertainment Inc., which held that “a denial of access to information can work an ‘injury in fact’ for standing purposes, at least where a statute (on the claimants’ reading) requires that the information ‘be publicly disclosed’ and there ‘is no reason to doubt their claim that the information would help them.'” (Internal citations from Ethyl Corp. v. EPA and FEC v. Akins.)
Howell also found that the two groups could intervene based on concern that the agency would not be able to sufficiently represent their more narrow interests in the listing status of the species.
“While the interests of FOA and DOW as defendant-intervenors are clearly aligned with the federal defendants in this action, they have a legitimate basis for concern over the adequacy of the representation of their interests, in view of the prior lengthy litigation by these proposed intervenors against the FWS and the necessity of a court order to force the FWS to remove the captive-bred exemption,” she wrote.