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Budget Rider Pulls Plug|on Antelope Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The fate of certain endangered captive-bred African antelope has changed again due to the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, according to a new regulation.

The struggle over the plight of the antelope began in September 2005, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the dama gazelle species of antelope were endangered in their entirety under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because their numbers in the wild had declined drastically in North Africa over the past 50 years. At the same time, the USFWS published a related regulation authorizing a blanket exemption for "certain otherwise prohibited activities" under the ESA in association with captive-breeding programs operated by zoos and private sport hunting ranches.

The exempt activities included selling, shipping and transporting the animals as well as killing them for sport-hunting trophies. The agency justified this exemption because the exotic animal ranches were successfully increasing the numbers of these antelope and providing stock for reintroduction into the wild.

The exemption regulation was challenged in court by two lawsuits that were consolidated into one case. In 2009, the District Court for the District of Columbia handed the regulation back to the USFWS with a ruling that it violated the ESA. The agency published a proposed rule in 2011 and a final rule in 2012 that removed the 2005 exemption regulation. This meant that those who wished to engage in the prohibited activities had to apply and qualify for an individual exemption under the ESA.

Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 on Jan. 17 to prevent another government shut-down. A small section of the massive omnibus bill directed the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the exemption rule "without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule," according to the reissued regulation. Now, the antelope are once again subject to the blanket exemptions for trophy hunting, and those who want to hunt them no longer have to apply for individual ESA permits.

The tug of war between those who want to hunt them and those who want to save them is not over however. One of the groups that originally challenged the exemption regulation, the Friends of Animals (FOA), filed suit against the USFWS again in October of last year to stop the trophy killing, claiming that the agency has made a practice of processing permits for hunting ranches that was not in compliance with the ESA. "A canned hunting ranch cannot fulfill the purposes of the Endangered Species Act," Priscilla Feral, FOA president, was quoted as saying in the group's press release. "The truth is, the party's over for hunting ranches that allow trophy hunters to kill endangered antelopes, pimping scimitar-horned oryxes for around $3,500 - $5,000, and dama gazelles and addax for $10,000 or more."

The suit is on hold however due to "the budget rider by Congressman Carter" in the January bill, Mike Harris, Director of the FOA's Wildlife Law Program, told Courthouse News in an emailed response.

"On March 5, 2014, we filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of Congressman Carter's rider. In that case, we are waiting for the government to answer. I would anticipate that case being briefed in the summer. In the meantime, the October 2013 case will likely be stayed pending the outcome of this newer litigation," Harris said in the emailed response.

The new regulation went into effect March 19.

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