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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

President’s budget a mixed bag for animals

Yesterday, the White House released President Trump’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which continues the trend of spending cuts for some animal welfare programs. For example, two agencies that oversee animal protection are slated again for deep budget reductions—the Department of Interior by 17 percent and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 20 percent.

Horses_istock_270x240_Gary-Alvis
Gary Alvis/iStock

Keep in mind that the budget proposal is a starting point, and still needs to be negotiated and approved by Congress. At this early stage in the process, here are some animal welfare programs that do not receive significant support in the President’s budget request:

Wild Horses and Burros

The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget is cut by over $13 million, and once again does not include key protective language to prevent the commercial sale and killing of an unlimited number of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal lands. These majestic animals are protected under federal law, and it would betray the public trust to allow mass killing of them.

Horse Slaughter

Missing from the President’s budget is language specifying that funds will not be available to allow the slaughter of horses for human consumption. This is the second year in a row that the President has failed to include this protective language, and members of Congress will need to block the use of tax dollars for horse slaughter.

Animal Welfare

The Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service’s Animal Welfare program is slated to be cut by almost $500,000 from the level in the pending House and Senate FY18 bills. This is particularly troubling given that APHIS recently approved nearly 1,000 new licensees subject to Animal Welfare Act regulation. This expanding program needs adequate funding to fulfill its responsibility to ensure basic care for millions of animals at puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, and other facilities as Congress and the public expect.

Marine Mammals

Again this year, the President’s budget eliminates two initiatives critical to protecting marine mammals. The Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Grant Program supports trained teams, largely composed of volunteers, which rescue and care for more than 5,500 stranded whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals each year. Thanks to this care, many of the animals successfully return to the wild. With the loss of Prescott funds, which often help leverage additional funds from the private sector, members of the public who encounter marine mammals in distress might be unable to find anyone to assist.

The budget again would eliminate the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, whose mandate is to conserve marine mammals. The commission notes  that it costs each American about one penny per year, and "sits at the juncture where science, policy, and economic factors are reconciled to meet the mandates of the [Marine Mammal Protection Act], which balance the demands of human activities with the protection of marine mammals and the environment that sustains them." It is imperative that the commission be funded to continue seeking practical solutions to conservation challenges facing marine mammals.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

The animal protection community celebrated the 2016 passage of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, with language aimed at minimizing, and ultimately replacing, the use of animals in chemical safety tests. Funding for computational toxicology and other 21st century methods of risk assessment is essential to implement the law. Last year, President Trump’s budget went in the wrong direction by reducing EPA’s funding for alternatives development by a massive 28 percent. That budget request also reduced the National Institute of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences by 19 percent. This year’s budget fares no better, reducing EPA’s computational toxicology program by over $4 million (nearly 20 percent) and reducing the NCATS program by over $200 million (nearly 30 percent).

Department of Justice Enforcement

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division plays a critical role in prosecuting a number of environmental statutes aimed at protecting millions of animals, including endangered and threatened species. The President’s FY19 budget request reduces ENRD’s budget by $3.7 million (3.5 percent), at a time when ENRD may be expected to respond to impacts on wildlife from expanded fossil fuel development, infrastructure, border security, and military readiness activities. 

Wildlife Trafficking

While the President’s FY19 budget declares the Administration’s commitment to combatting illegal wildlife trafficking, it cuts Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement funding by $5 million. It’s hard to square this reduction with the budget notes directing FWS to "cooperate with the State Department, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments to disrupt transportation routes connected to the illegal wildlife trafficking supply chain," "encourage foreign nations to enforce their wildlife laws," and "continue to cooperate with other nations to combat wildlife trafficking to halt the destruction of some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, by stopping illicit trade; ensuring sustainable legal trade; reducing demand for illegal products; and providing assistance and grants to other nations to develop local enforcement capabilities."

On the positive side, it’s good to see that the President’s FY19 budget proposal again recommends cutting federal subsidies for the USDA’s Wildlife Services program that uses tax dollars to carry out lethal predator control programs, despite the availability of more humane and potentially more effective alternatives. This reduction specifically includes a decrease of $56,343,000 for the Wildlife Damage Management program and a $35,775,000 cut for Wildlife Services’ Operational Activities. We hope the Administration will press Congress to follow through on this policy shift, and reduce this government subsidy for toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, aerial gunning, and other inhumane practices that kill predators and non-target species such as family pets.

While this budget document serves as a looking glass into the Administration’s priorities for FY19, Congress has the power of the purse. We will continue to work hard with our allies on Capitol Hill to ensure that animal welfare initiatives receive necessary funding and to fight harmful provisions to animals.

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