Where does all the money go? Animal rights groups frequently recover major financial awards in lawsuits allegedly pursued in the name of “animal protection.” How often does that money get spent on conservation for the species those lawsuits were allegedly filed to protect? Not often, if the groups’ websites are any indication.
Consider, for example, the myriad wolf lawsuits filed during the last decade. Animal rights groups, including HSUS, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and others, have collected close to $1,000,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs from the federal government in suits challenging wolf delistings and management. These groups’ websites make no mention of any direct investment of litigation awards into wolf conservation and/or research. So where does all the money go? More litigation? Membership campaigns? Wolf rallies where animal rights activists wear home-made wolf masks and howl at government officials?
Recently, SCI set itself apart from these conservationists in wolves’ clothing and put its litigation money into genuine conservation. When SCI’s litigation team earned a modest attorney fee award from the federal government in one of its lawsuits, Safari Club decided to directly invest that money in conservation and research for the species at issue in the litigation. SCI received attorneys’ fees and costs for a suit in which SCI challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) failure to act on time on SCI’s petition to delist the U.S. populations of scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax (three antelope species). The agency settled SCI’s suit, paying SCI’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Upon receiving the award, SCI set out to invest those funds in a program or project designed to conserve and/or research one of the three antelope species.
After almost a year of careful evaluation, SCI’s litigation staff finally found the perfect program – Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve (Bamberger Ranch), a 5,500-acre ranch near Johnson City, Texas. J. David Bamberger, an 85-year-old rancher and conservationist with the heart and energy of a person half his age, converted overgrazed and damaged land into a conservation oasis. Until 2012, when animal rights litigation undermined scimitar conservation, the Bamberger Ranch laid claim to the largest scimitar herd in the world.
Mr. Bamberger purchased the property in 1969 and slowly turned it into a conservation and educational facility. In 2002 he established a foundation, Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Hunting has always been a component of the Bamberger Ranch’s management. On its website, the ranch includes the following answer to the Frequently Asked Question – “You are a nature preserve. Why do you hunt animals?”
Hunters and anglers are first and foremost conservationists. A hunter takes only what they need and in essence contributes [to] the health of an ecosystem. Yes, they hunt, but it’s in their best interest to keep the species they love healthy and thriving. And because we live in a capitalist society, hunting and fishing offer economic incentives for private landowners who pay property taxes and incur all the expenses that go into owning land. Texas is 94% privately owned and hunting/fishing brings in $6.6 billion to this state in revenue.
The scimitar-horned oryx herd is one of the ranch’s major conservation successes and primary attractions. Mr. Bamberger became involved in scimitar conservation as a result of his former affiliation with the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (AZA). He agreed to work with the AZA’s Species Survival Program (SSP) and offered ranch lands for a special restoration project. Because zoos lacked sufficient space to deal with a species like the scimitar that need a lot of space to thrive, the Bamberger Ranch’s acres and acres of range offered a perfect solution.
In 1991, Mr. Bamberger offered to provide 640 acres of the ranch for the exclusive use of captive breeding of the scimitar-horned oryx. Under the plan, AZA facilities supplied the genetic material and dictated the breeding program, record keeping process and transfers of breeding stock to and from the ranch. The Bamberger Ranch managed the herd and provided nutrition, veterinary care, and research projects – at its own expense.
Twenty-eight scimitar-horned oryx, representing 29 of the 32 known remaining living bloodlines of the species, were relocated to the ranch. The SSP set a goal for the ranch to produce 400 individual antelope with diverse genetic material for ultimate reintroduction to Africa. Once the Bamberger Ranch achieved that goal, it would retain full ownership of all surplus animals.
The scimitar conservation project did not come cheap. After an initial capital investment of $106,000, the ranch spent $30,000 a year to feed, manage, care for and breed the herd. Once the herd reached the 400 antelope goal, the surplus animals helped pay for the herd’s upkeep. The ranch sold surplus members to other ranches in the area that had their own scimitar-horned oryx herds. The other ranchers purchased the Bamberger Ranch’s antelope in order to introduce new genetic material into their own scimitar stock and to avoid genetic problems commonly caused by inbreeding. Over the years, the Bamberger Ranch also contributed scimitar to African reintroduction programs and SSP projects at dozens of zoos and institutions. Unfortunately, war and poor habitat conditions in the species’ home ranges in Africa hindered the progress of the scimitar’s restoration to the wild.
Despite the FWS’s decision to list the three antelope species as endangered in 2005, the Bamberger Ranch was able to continue to maintain its herd through the sale of surplus animals. Federal regulations exempting the species from take prohibitions associated with endangered status enabled ranchers to sell hunts for members of their herds without restrictions and permit requirements. The exemptions allowed scimitar herd ownership to remain financially viable.
That ended when animal rights groups, including Friends of Animals, HSUS, Born Free USA and others, challenged the legality of those regulations. Despite SCI’s and the Exotic Wildlife Association’s participation in the case to defend the exemptions, the animal rights groups achieved just enough success in the case to undermine the privately funded and managed conservation system that had achieved great recovery of the three species in the U.S. When a federal court ruled that the regulatory exemptions violated the Endangered Species Act, the Bamberger Ranch’s conservation efforts – and the conservation efforts of many ranches with herds of the three antelope species — suffered a tremendous blow.
New FWS regulations, adopted in 2012 as a result of that lawsuit, threatened the Bamberger Ranch’s ability to maintain its scimitar herd. The FWS adopted rules that required ranches to obtain permits to manage and sell hunts for the three antelope species. Because of the burdensome application requirements, many ranches chose not to continue in the business of owning and breeding the antelope. The Bamberger Ranch found itself without buyers for its surplus scimitar and consequently without funding for the upkeep of its large herd. Soon, the ranch realized that continued breeding would cause the scimitar population to exceed the ranch’s carrying capacity within three years, and would result in overgrazing and habitat damage. Without a viable means of selling surplus animals, the ranch drastically revised its plans for future scimitar conservation and management.
The ranch discontinued its breeding operations. In addition, although it never had done so previously, the ranch added limited scimitar hunting to the other hunts offered on ranch property. The ranch determined that, on an annual basis, it could offer one or two quality guided scimitar hunts to keep its scimitar herds healthy and productive, with the proceeds going to pay the costs of maintaining the herd. Two scimitar, both in excess of 20 years of age and neither of which contributed to the species’ future gene pool, were the first selected for potential conservation hunts. Despite the potential revenue from the hunts, the ranch desperately needed additional funding to help pay the $30,000-a-year maintenance costs for the herd’s upkeep.
SCI’s litigation award provided a solution. Through a research plan devised by Safari Club International Foundation biologists and Bamberger Ranch Biologist Steven Fulton, SCI provided the ranch with a check for $10,000 to financially support genetic testing of the herd and to provide food and veterinary services for healthy herd maintenance.
On November 18, 2012, Rew Goodenow, Chairman of SCI’s Legal Task Force and Anna Seidman, Director of Litigation for SCI, visited the Bamberger Ranch to formally present SCI’s check. David Bamberger and the members of the Bamberger Ranch team provided Rew and Anna with a full-day’s tour of the scimitar herd, the ranch facilities and conservation projects. They viewed the specially designed testing apparatus used for the capture and blood sampling of members of the scimitar herd. Mr. Bamberger personally spent the entire day with Rew and Anna, touring the facility, demonstrating ranch projects, and recounting stories about the origin of the ranch, the scimitar project, and the ongoing missions of the ranch to conserve wildlife and habitat and teach others how to conserve.
Rew and Anna were treated like members of the family and were invited to lunch in the Bamberger home. In addition to Mr. Bamberger and his partner Joanna Rees, Rew and Anna were joined by Administrative Assistant Lois Sturm, Executive Director Colleen Gardner, Ranch Biologist Steven Fulton and Program Manager Michael Galster. Over lunch, all shared in the discussion about the insincerities of the scimitar conservation motivations of the “animal rights” groups responsible for imposing unnecessary regulatory restrictions on sustainable hunting.
A particular highlight of Rew and Anna’s day was the chance to see one of the ranch’s large and healthy herds of scimitar, running across the property, much as they once did in the wild in Africa. Rew said of the visit, “As a person with a lifetime of agricultural experience, I was greatly impressed with the unique breeding and herd management facilities of the Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve.” Rew and Anna bore witness, on behalf of all SCI members, to the fruits of SCI litigation’s unique and concrete contribution to the fate of the species.
At the close of the day, Rew formally presented the Bamberger Ranch with SCI’s check. After photos, handshakes and hugs, promises were made for a continuation of the relationship started by the donation and visit.
In mid-January, Congress passed an omnibus budget bill containing a provision affecting the three antelope species. In part due to the efforts of SCI’s advocacy team in Washington, D.C. and our friends in the Exotic Wildlife Association, Dallas Safari Club and many others, the provision directs the FWS to reissue the original regulatory exemptions that eliminate the requirement that ranchers obtain permits to sell hunts for members of U.S. herds. Hopefully, this will encourage private ranchers to once again raise, breed and offer sales of scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax. If so, demand will return for the Bamberger Ranch’s surplus scimitars and the ranch will once again be able to generate its own financial support for herd upkeep. Safari Club can take great pride in the fact that its litigation efforts helped the Bamberger Ranch sustain its herd and maintain its genetic integrity during a crisis that threatened not only the Bamberger Ranch’s herd but the herds’ contribution to long-term species survival.
Where does all that litigation money go? In the case of SCI – it goes to the purpose of that litigation – wildlife conservation and the research that supports that conservation. Once again, SCI set itself apart because being First for Hunters, including in litigation advocacy, means making sure that wildlife remains available for future generations.—Anna Seidman, SCI Director of Litigation