There’s some good news on the endangered species front: Three species of endangered African antelopes — the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Addax, and Dama Gazelle — are coming back with a vengeance. At least in Texas, where the population of the three antelope species quadrupled from 2004 to 2010, growing to a combined total of around 17,000.
What’s the secret? Private property rights and markets. In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the Endangered Species Act (ESA), created a blanket exception from the ESA’s “taking” prohibition for captive-bred U.S. antelope. FWS recognized that the rare African antelopes have great value to trophy hunters and, accordingly, to ranchers who are able set aside ideal habitat for the creatures. The prospect of hefty bounties — up to $10,000 per antelope — has encouraged the formation of private preserves, much to the benefit of the three endangered species.
Unfortunately, an environmental organization operating under the misnomer “Friends of Animals” sued to stop hunting of the antelopes on private preserves. “Hunting these antelope is no way to save them or treat them with dignity,” proclaimed the Friends of Animals vice-president (apparently ignoring the data on the antelopes’ population explosion in Texas).
Today’s WSJ reports that Friends of Animals has procured new rules that will require exotic ranchers to obtain costly individual take permits for every instance of hunting. Faced with the prospect of having to navigate the costly and time-consuming permit process, many exotic ranchers are considering whether to abandon their antelope operations altogether. If they do so, we can expect the worldwide population of these antelope species to dwindle. Yet another consequence of our perverse Endangered Species Act, which renders listed species a liability to landowners (thereby encouraging a “shoot, shovel, and shut up” strategy) and fights all efforts to encourage market-based conservation efforts.