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June 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

From Atlanta to Umbabat, American trophy hunters pose a threat to endangered species

This week, the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a Department of the Interior advisory group dominated by big-game trophy hunters, held its second public meeting, in Atlanta. This advisory group seeks to promote the trophy hunting of charismatic animal species on the taxpayer dime—and questions and discussions at the meeting underscored that the council aims to weaken existing protections for threatened and endangered species, all to make it easier for trophy hunters to import animal trophies into the United States.

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Skye, the lion, who was allegedly killed by a
trophy hunter

Council members appeared miffed by the widespread negative perception of trophy hunting and attributed this to the American public’s lack of understanding about the purported multitude of conservation benefits that they themselves attribute to trophy hunting. They also sounded the customary—and false—note that animals will go extinct if trophy hunting were stopped.

This council’s membership is stacked with trophy hunting enthusiasts, celebrity hunters, and industry lobbyists, and the two public proceedings they have held so far have demonstrated how it’s imbalanced and outside the mainstream of American views on conservation and wildlife protection. The council takes the Orwellian approach that the only way to save wild animals from going extinct is to shoot them.

A 2017 analysis found that trophy hunting has relatively low economic value as a wildlife-related activity. While tourism contributes to at most 5.1 percent of the GDP among the eight African study countries, the total economic contribution of trophy hunting is at most about 0.03 percent of that figure. Foreign hunters make up less than 0.1 percent of tourists on average and they contribute 0.78 percent or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending. Trophy hunting’s contribution to tourism employment is only 0.76 percent or less of average direct tourism employment.       

Moreover, the trophy hunting of imperiled species is biologically unsustainable. Trophy hunters target the biggest and strongest animals with impressive tusks, horns, manes, and other distinguishing characteristics. Science has shown that trophy hunting alters the biological characteristics and population dynamics of the hunted species, too.   

In a terrible coincidence, just days before the Atlanta meeting, we learned of the alleged killing of a male lion named Skye in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. Reportedly, the lion was baited to facilitate the hunt; in any event, Skye has not been seen since June 7 when the hunt took place, according to local sources, and it’s possible that an American hunter could be responsible for his death. 

Skye, with his stunning mane and majestic posture, is a favorite subject of wildlife photographers and tourists. He’s a dominant male who heads a pride known to frequent both the Kruger National Park and Umbabat; the pride consists of three cubs, three sub-adults, and six lionesses.

One of the pride’s young cubs has reportedly been killed by a competing pride following Skye’s disappearance. If the cub’s killing is confirmed, it is a somber reminder that trophy hunting of lions carries a significant ecological price tag affecting not just the animal hunted but also the pride members left behind.  

The Umbabat Private Nature Reserve and the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, the provincial authority that grants permits for trophy hunts, have vehemently denied that the hunted lion was Skye. However, they have not publicly presented photographic evidence of the hunted animal to verify this; nor have they granted third party requests to view and examine the skin of the hunted lion. Photographs are especially critical to establishing a hunted animal’s identity. Skye, for example, has a distinguishing scar under his left eye and S-shaped scar on his right flank.

Even if the killed lion is not Skye, it is a cause for alarm that lions protected in Kruger National Park could fall victim to senseless and bloody trophy hunting when they step over its invisible geographical boundaries into the adjoining private reserves. More than 1.4 million visitors flock to Kruger National Park each year to view wildlife, including lions, bringing in tens of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. In South Africa, trophy hunting brings in only 1.2 percent of the income brought in by tourism. Math makes the indictment real: trophy hunting is robbing South Africa of the very thing that tourists will pay to see, over and over again: live lions and other animals. A lion or elephant can be enjoyed alive by hundreds or thousands of photographers and tourists—but only killed once by a trophy hunter.

It’s a long way from Atlanta to Umbabat, but there is a direct connection between the formation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council and the growing threat to threatened and endangered animal species in Africa and elsewhere. The United States has long been the world’s largest importer of lion hunting trophies—even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed African lions as threatened and endangered in 2016, the agency continues to allow American hunters to import lion trophies from certain African countries, including South Africa. The Service is responsible for forging an intelligent conservation policy and it would be unlawful for it to rely on advice from a council stacked with big-game trophy hunters. South Africa has approximately 2,800 of the 20,000 lions in the world, and we need to do what we can to keep every one of them alive.

Please take a minute to send a letter to USFWS and ask them to deny any application to import wild lion trophies from South Africa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Animals fare better in the Senate Farm Bill as it makes it way out of committee

Today, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved its Farm Bill—and it’s a much brighter picture for animals than the House counterpart bill.  We are grateful to Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) for working together to craft a bipartisan bill that avoids major anti-animal provisions and includes an important pro-animal measure. 

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The HSUS

A highlight of the Senate bill is that it contains nothing like the outrageous power grab Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tacked on the House bill. Rep King’s measure aims to impose a lowest-common-denominator approach across the country. Under the King amendment, if any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous the product or unacceptable the production process, every other state could have to do so as well. This could undermine hundreds of duly-enacted laws reflecting the public will on a wide range of concerns—for example, bans on the sale of horse and dog meat, laws against the sale of products that are the result of extreme confinement of farm animals, and sales of  dogs from puppy mills, as well as a host of other issues such as food safety, child labor, pesticide exposure, diseased livestock, manure management, alcohol, raw milk, seed standards, fire-safe cigarettes, import of firewood free from invasive pests, and labeling of flagship state products such as catfish, wild-caught salmon, maple syrup, and wine. A bipartisan group of 119 Representatives and more than 200 organizations from across the political spectrum —including FreedomWorks, Fraternal Order of Police, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, United Farm Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Conference of State Legislatures, and National League of Cities—have joined us in opposing King’s dangerous legislation. We will work to ensure that the Senate bill remains free of this poison pill, and push to keep it out of the final Senate/House package, as we were able to do in the 2014 Farm Bill when King last tried this.

We are thrilled that Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow included, in the Farm Bill they brought to the committee, essential language mirroring the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322, introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). The PAWS provision will help protect battered partners and their pets by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets, and authorizing grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (only 3 percent currently allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. Many delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, a legitimate fear considering up to 84 percent of women entering shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. While 32 states have adopted similar legislation, PAWS will provide protection across the country. The PAWS legislation is supported by a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

We’re also relieved that Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) decided not to pursue his amendment to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act requirement that USDA conduct annual inspections at animal research laboratories. Having an inspection once a year to check for compliance with minimal standards on such issues as food, water, and basic veterinary care is certainly not an onerous burden. It would be a terrible mistake to make these federal inspections less frequent, especially since 20 percent of research facilities were cited for violations during just a 6-month period last year. Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) had filed a similar amendment to the House Farm Bill, but it did not get a floor vote.

As the Farm Bill heads to the Senate floor, we hope there will be further opportunities to consider these additional worthy animal welfare provisions:

  • Checkoff: Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741/H.R. 1753, to make agricultural commodity checkoff programs—such as those for beef, pork, and dairy—more transparent and accountable and prevent checkoff dollars from being misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms and family farmers. This legislation is endorsed by more than 80 farm organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers, as noted in this op-ed.
  • Animal Fighting: Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, S. 2971/H.R. 4202, to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories. This provision will protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gangs, protect public health and the food supply from bird flu and other disease transmission, and enhance enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the U.S. It was incorporated into the House Farm Bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51.
  • Dog and Cat Meat: Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act, S. 1406, to ban the slaughter, trade, import, and export of dogs and cats for human consumption. While uncommon in this country, the practice does occur and only six states have laws against it. This legislation, incorporated into the House Farm Bill by voice vote in committee, will prevent the appalling dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide.

We look forward to working with Chairman Roberts and Senator Stabenow to sustain the pro-animal positions in the bill approved by the Agriculture Committee today, and build on this package as the Farm Bill advances.  As always, our success will depend on your continued engagement. Contact your two U.S. Senators today and ask that the Farm Bill protects animals.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Key House committee okays Interior spending bill with harmful provisions for grizzly bears, wolves

The Interior spending bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee yesterday brought some good news for animals, including animals used in research and testing. But the bill poses a threat to some of America’s most iconic wildlife species, including grizzly bears and wolves, and takes the wrong track on the management of wild horses and burros.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

Here are some of the most important provisions affecting animals:

Animals used in testing: We strongly support language in the bill that encourages the Environmental Protection Agency to report on its development, use, implementation, and interagency coordination on test methods and strategies that assess the human and environmental safety of chemical substances without causing harm to animals. This further builds on the EPA’s recent actions to limit the number of animal tests required for the registration of pesticides, as well as the passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which gives preference for non-animal methods of determining toxic chemicals’ safety hazards. There is room for the EPA to do more to prevent animal testing conducted within the agency itself or in coordination with other federal agencies, and this provision in the spending bill is a good step forward.

Wild horses and burros: The committee approved an amendment by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) that increases funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro program. However, the amendment would direct funds for the agency to permanently sterilize wild horses, return them to the range and create non-reproducing herds. While permanent surgical sterilization methods have long been practiced and perfected on domestic dogs and cats, field sterilization of wild, ungentled mares, has not. Strong concerns remain not only regarding the feasibility and economic burden of permanently sterilizing large numbers of horses in the wild, but also about the humaneness of performing invasive procedures on wild mares that could result in numerous painful and life-threatening complications. Moreover, the concept of non-reproducing herds negates the intent of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and BLM’s own regulations which require the agency to manage these animals, in part, by creating self-maintaining herds of wild horses and burros. We urge Congress to provide increased funding to the wild horse and burro program but to push for humane solutions, such as PZP, an already available reversible birth control tool, to manage wild horses and burros on the range.

Grizzly bears: In March, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his support for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades Ecosystem of Washington State, emphasizing the “ecological devastation” that the permanent loss of grizzly bears to this ecosystem would cause. The unexpected announcement seemed to signal a shift from last June, when the Interior department finalized a rule delisting grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. However, an amendment offered yesterday by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and approved by the committee, would bar the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward with a plan to transplant or introduce grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem.

Gray wolves: The spending bill bars judicial review of a previous final rule removing federal Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in Wyoming, directs the interior secretary to reissue a final rule removing federal ESA protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states, and bars judicial review of that action. As if that weren’t enough, it directs the interior secretary to issue a final rule removing federal ESA protections for the gray wolf in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, and bars judicial review of the action. The western Great Lakes wolf delisting language also overrides a federal appeals court ruling last year that maintained these very protections for these wolves. Congress should not be cherry-picking species from the threatened and endangered lists based on political whim, circumventing sound science and shutting the public out of the process.

There is still time to ensure that some of the harmful provisions in this bill do not become law. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the spending bill next, so please call both of your senators and urge them to vote to keep protections for wolves and grizzly bears and push for humane solutions for wild equines in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

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