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Action Alerts

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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Abandoned puppy at airport highlights need for PAWS Act

A 3-month-old Chihuahua puppy named Chewy was abandoned inside a Las Vegas airport restroom two weekends ago. The heartbreaking note from Chewy’s owner highlights a critical policy issue that should be a call to action for lawmakers.

Chewy2
Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue
Chewy after being rescued by a Good Samaritan

The note read: "Hi! I’m Chewy! My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford me to get on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me with all her heart but she has NO other option. My ex-boyfriend kicked my dog when we were fighting and he has a big knot on his head. He probably needs a vet. I love Chewy sooo much—please love and take care of him."

Fortunately a Good Samaritan found Chewy and got him to a local dog rescue, where he is recovering and doing well. But how many pets like Chewy are injured or killed in homes where there is domestic abuse? And how many human victims remain in dangerous situations rather than leave a beloved pet behind with an abusive spouse or partner?

In Congress, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have introduced critical legislation to help domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322 and H.R. 909, would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend existing federal domestic violence protections to four-legged family members.

In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only three percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four. Had the PAWS Act been passed, it may have helped Chewy stay with his owner.

Thirty-two states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go to live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders? The PAWS Act establishes a national policy on the issue and encourages states to expand their legal protections for pets in abusive households.

Chewy1
Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue

Domestic violence and animal cruelty often go hand in hand. A seminal study in 1997 found that between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners had threatened, injured, or killed the family pet. For abusers, harming or threatening to harm a beloved dog or cat is a way of exerting control and intimidation, trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.

A Campbellton, Fla., man, charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence toward his live-in girlfriend, shot the family’s dog twice, beat her with a rifle, and later with an ax, until she was dead. In Amsterdam, N.Y., a man slit the throat of his girlfriend’s cat and threw the cat out a window, and two days later, he attempted to strangle his girlfriend. Another woman was threatened while she was forced to watch her cat tied to a tree and killed with fireworks by her abuser.

All over the country, the examples are endless and horrifying, illustrating a direct link between animal cruelty and violence against people. Those who torture and abuse animals are the ones most likely to physically harm a human family member.

Chewy got away to safety, and so did the owner who loved him dearly. The passage of this legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provides other victims and their families with the help they need. There is simply no reason to deny these protections to pets, and the people who love them. 

Contact your legislators today and tell them to support the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Animal protection rules could be chopped by regulation ax

In the first days of the 115th Congress, lawmakers are poised to take up the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act, which both have the potential to undermine Presidential authority and set the stage for the elimination of popular and bipartisan rules, taking an ax to a circumstance that requires far more precision and a more merits-based analysis on rules. This potentially includes a profound impact on rules that implement animal protection laws and improve enforcement of them.

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Photo courtesy of The HSUS

The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21, would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow en bloc disapproval of multiple regulations finalized during the last year of a President’s term. Such action would prevent due consideration of the merits of individual regulations. For animal protection rules adopted during the Obama Administration, including in the final year of his term, most have been many years in the making, have elicited overwhelming numbers of favorable public comments, and have enjoyed strong, bipartisan congressional support.

For example, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators wrote to USDA in support of the anti-horse soring rule, which corrects deficiencies in USDA’s current regulations in ways that mirror provisions in the PAST Act, legislation that had 273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors in the 114th Congress. The PAST Act was introduced largely to force the agency to fix these very problems, many of which were identified by a damning 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General report urging regulatory changes to overhaul the existing enforcement regimen. And the agency itself warned horse sorers that it was considering some of these changes in public notices going back to 1979. So this rule is a long time in coming. But this rule, likely to be finalized within the next few days, could be characterized as a “midnight rule” and eliminated, despite the enormous number of lawmakers from both parties who have urged its adoption. It would be a terrible mistake for Congress to sweep them away and undercut these reasonable efforts—in the works for years, after getting substantial input from Congress—to ensure that animal protection laws are carried out effectively. There was nothing nefarious or undercutting about this rulemaking, and if anything, the Obama Administration has dragged its feet on it, rather than rushing it through at the last minute.

Another example is a rule made final in July that closes a loophole for the processing of downer calves—animals too sick, injured, or weak to walk—to prohibit sending them into the food supply, just as was done for downer cattle by USDA regulations in 2009. A series of undercover investigations documented that downer calves are subjected to the same heinous abuse as adult downer cows to get them on their feet for inspection, and showed the serious food safety concerns from eating calves unable to stand, as there were for downer cattle. This rule was anything but precipitously adopted—the agency had said back in 2013 that it would update its regulations to close the loophole—and a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators urged USDA and OMB to finish this rulemaking in letters sent in 2014 and 2015.

One report found that rules issued during the “midnight” or presidential transition period spent even more time in the rulemaking process and received even more extensive vetting than other rules. That’s our experience with the measures we’ve encouraged final action upon. Analysis of all economically significant rulemakings finalized since 1999 showed that such rules issued during the transition period took on average 3.6 years to complete compared to 2.8 years for such rules issued at other times during a term.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017, H.R. 26, would require that both houses of Congress approve a major rule (including those issued during the 60 legislative/session days prior to adjournment of the previous session), with no alteration, within a 70-day window. If both chambers are unable to swiftly approve a major rule, it would not take effect and reconsideration during that Congress would be precluded. By doing nothing, Congress would prevent existing laws from being implemented, including common sense, non-controversial rules affecting animal welfare. The bill forces expedited floor consideration by both chambers of resolutions to approve major rules and to disapprove nonmajor rules, and it bars judicial review of any actions taken under the REINS Act.

Congress already sets the boundaries for agency rulemaking, making the REINS Act needless and redundant. It is already the case that agencies can only exercise authority that has been delegated by Congress in authorizing legislation, and if agencies overstep their authority, judicial scrutiny can be invoked and agency actions can be reversed.

We urge Congress to reject both of these unwarranted bills, which take a sledgehammer approach to regulations and could negate well-considered and broadly supported rules to implement and enforce animal protection laws.

Contact your U.S. Representative TODAY and urge him or her to oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21 and the REINS Act of 2017, H.R. 26.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere

The Humane Society Legislative Fund today announces its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President, and the launch of a new ad campaign to inform voters that a Donald Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere. In our view, Trump represents the greatest threat ever to federal policy-making and implementation of animal protection laws, and we are taking the unusual step of wading actively into a presidential campaign.

 

HSLF has members who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and supports lawmakers and candidates from all over the political spectrum. We evaluate candidates based on a single, non-partisan criterion—their support for animal protection—and do not default to one party or the other.

The next president will have an enormous impact over animal protection in this country for the next four to eight years, and the stakes are high with policy decisions overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Institutes of Health, and other executive agencies. When you consider the potential for advancing animal welfare reforms at the federal level, or rolling back the recent gains and rulemaking actions, there could not be a greater contrast among the White House hopefuls. One ticket has a clear, compelling record of support for animal protection, while the other has assembled a team of advisors and financial supporters tied in with trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and other abusive industries. The names that Trump’s campaign has floated for engagement on Interior and Agriculture department issues are a “who’s who” of zealous anti-animal welfare activists.

We’ve all seen the gruesome photographs of Trump’s adult sons documenting their trophy kills, which include a leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures. Donald Jr. even holds up the tail of an African elephant he’s apparently shot. Both African elephants and leopards are listed as “threatened” with extinction under the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That means that the Trump sons use their fortunes and vacation time to travel the world amassing the heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—a pastime more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists. 

Troublingly, Donald Jr. has even been floated as a possible Interior Secretary. Both sons at the very least would be Trump’s top advisors and strategists on trophy hunting issues. The risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at or near the helm at Interior, or having the ear of the President, should be a terrifying prospect for any animal advocate. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

It’s not just family members floated for cabinet posts. Politico reported that oil tycoon Forrest Lucas is a “front-runner” to be Interior Secretary, in addition to serving as a member of Trump’s agriculture advisory committee. Lucas is the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate for trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He personally financed an attack on Proposition B in Missouri—one of the animal welfare movement’s most important ballot measures, designed to impose humane breeding standards for dogs and crack down on puppy mills.

Lucas and his group also opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; promote the spaying and neutering of pets; and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Other agriculture advisors to Trump include: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, both of whom signed onto the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages; former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, who along with Branstad ushered the nation’s first “ag-gag” bill into law to punish whistleblowers and shield agribusiness from public scrutiny; Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous”;  Oklahoma state Sen. Eddie Fields, author of the bill overturning the state’s 50-year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed that horse slaughter bill into law; and Missouri state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, who sponsored bills to weaken the voter-approved standards for puppy mills and deregulate canned hunts. Trump is surrounding himself with the leading anti-animal advocates in the United States, and at this stage, it appears many of them will not only have a front row seat in the Trump administration, but they’ll be at the steering wheel as a Trump administration examines food and agriculture and wildlife policy issues.  

While Trump has advocates for trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, and horse slaughter on his side, Hillary Clinton has a strong record of taking a stand against many of these issues. She published an animal welfare statement on her campaign website, noting that “[t]he way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity.” Clinton highlights the humane issues she plans to tackle as President, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledges to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals.

During her eight years in the U.S. Senate, Clinton was a strong and consistent supporter of animal protection policies, earning a 100 percent score on the Humane Scorecard in the 108th Congress, a perfect 100+ score in the 109th, and an 83 in the 110th. She co-sponsored legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, as well as bills to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and crack down on abusive puppy mills where dogs are treated like production machines. She led efforts in the 108th and 109th Congresses to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, which allow them to be crammed into overcrowded, stressful, and unsanitary factory farms. As a Senator, Clinton also signed letters requesting more funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. During the 2008 campaign, she voiced concern over the slaughter of sick and injured cows whose meat was channeled into the national school lunch program. As Secretary of State, Clinton led international efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking.

She continued her leadership on animal protection later through the Clinton Foundation, and helped to launch a major campaign to fight the illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants. It’s telling that the Clintons saw animal protection as part of the larger landscape for charitable work and important enough to be included among their philanthropy. Trump is a billionaire but does not seem to have much in the way of charitable instincts at all. He says he’s given millions to charity, but the Washington Post reported that Trump made only one charitable gift between 2008 and May 2016, totaling less than $10,000; and used funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself and to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit business. By contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton personally gave just under $15 million during roughly that same period (2007 to 2014), or around 10% of their total income. That doesn’t account for the Clinton Foundation, which has raised over $2 billion for global health and wellness, economic development and climate change reduction efforts (and more) around the world. 

While the Clintons have owned pets much of their adult lives, it appears that Donald Trump never has. If elected, Trump would be the first president since Harry Truman without a pet in the White House. It’s hardly unusual for pets in our lives to humanize us, and to bring into sharper focus the importance of national policies to help animals. The Clintons seem to have long felt the pull of animals, while the Trumps have not, with two Trump sons being better known for killing animals as a recreational pursuit. Donald Trump has even called for the Food and Drug Administration to stop regulating pet food—not long after thousands of dogs and cats were sickened or died from consuming contaminated pet food and treats. It’s hard to imagine that he empathizes with the two-thirds of American households who have beloved pets as part of their families.

When HSLF evaluates the presidential contenders, it’s important to look at their running mates, too. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is currently a co-sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to strengthen the federal law against the “soring” of show horses—using caustic chemicals and other painful substances to injure the horses’ hooves and legs to induce a high-stepping gait. When he previously served as Governor of Virginia, he was attentive to animal issues, and signed legislation strengthening laws against animal fighting, restricting the operation of puppy mills, requiring a bittering agent in antifreeze to prevent poisoning of animals, and maintaining a ban on the use of gas chambers for animal euthanasia.

When Mike Pence served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, he had more of a mixed record on animal protection, with scores on the HSLF Humane Scorecard ranging from 0 to 56. He supported legislation on animal fighting, crush videos, pets in disasters, service dogs for veterans, and horse slaughter, but opposed animal welfare measures on primates as exotic pets, stopping the slaughter of downer livestock, importing sport-hunted polar bear trophies, killing Yellowstone bison, protecting wild horses from slaughter, prohibiting bear baiting on federal lands, and conserving rare cats and canids, sea otters, marine turtles, and cranes. As governor of Indiana, he signed a pro-animal bill requiring animal shelters to spay or neuter dogs and cats before adoption. His addition to the ticket does little to assuage concerns about whether or not a Trump administration would be supportive of animal-friendly policy initiatives.

Americans who care about protecting wildlife, combating large-scale cruelties like animal fighting and puppy mills, securing humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and addressing other challenges that face animals in our nation, must become active over the next few weeks to elect a president who shares our values. Please sign our pledge, and spread the word that voters who care about the humane treatment of animals—whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents—should vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

HSLF is a nonpartisan organization that evaluates candidates based only on a single criterion: where they stand on animal welfare. HSLF does not judge candidates based on party affiliation or any other issue.

Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 455, Washington, DC 20037.

Friday, July 29, 2016

On International Tiger Day, roar for big cats

Today is International Tiger Day, and there’s no better time to take note of a sobering and perplexing figure: there are approximately double the number of tigers living in captivity in the United States than exist in the wild. This magnificent species has lost at least 50 percent of its habitat since the 1990s and the total wild population has dwindled to about 3,500 tigers remaining across Asia. But here in the U.S., an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of these powerful carnivores are kept in basements, backyard menageries, and shoddy roadside zoos for commercial use and display, or personal fancy.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS
Alex was part of an exotic pet rescue in Kansas
He is happy and safe and now resides at
Black Beauty Ranch.

This burgeoning captive tiger population continues to grow primarily because of a network of exhibition facilities that overbreed exotic animals to produce a steady supply of infant cubs for lucrative photo-ops and interactive experiences sold to members of the public. HSUS undercover investigations have revealed the physical abuse and nutritional deprivation these cubs suffer after they’re pulled from their moms immediately after birth to be “trained” for human contact. That’s why in 2012 The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations filed a legal petition seeking to amend the Animal Welfare Act regulations to explicitly prohibit licensed exhibitors from allowing members of the public to have direct contact or unsafe close contact with tigers or other big cats, bears, or primates, regardless of the age of the animal.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took preliminary action in response to this petition, issuing a formal notice that it is a violation of federal law to expose newborn exotic cats to public handling, since these vulnerable animals have underdeveloped immune systems and “should be housed with their mother for as long as possible after birth to promote good health.” Now, USDA has opened a comment period to gather additional information to support further regulatory action—you can take action here to voice your support for putting an end to the use of tigers of any age (or other dangerous wild animals) for this unsafe and inhumane practice.

At a time when wild tigers are mercilessly poached for their bones, meat, claws, teeth, and genitals, it is incomprehensible that we continue to allow tigers to be exploited domestically just for the thrill. This exploitation is not only inhumane and unsafe, but it puts an enormous financial burden on nonprofit organizations and wildlife sanctuaries, such as our affiliated Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which built state-of-the art enclosures to provide high-quality care to three tigers rescued from private menageries (you can watch a video here of one of the three, Alex, enjoying enrichment provided by his caregivers). Why should the rest of society have to pay for the actions of a few reckless individuals and commercial carnies who pose such a threat to public safety and animal welfare?

There’s much more that can be done to protect wild tigers here and around the world. HSLF and our coalition partners with Save Endangered Animals-Oregon just this week qualified a ballot measure for the November election to eliminate the in-state market in Oregon for tiger parts and other products of endangered species. This follows a successful ballot measure we supported last year in Washington state cracking down on wildlife trafficking and drying up demand for the parts of tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, and other magnificent creatures. The HSUS and Humane Society International joined 43 other organizations to call on countries to end the tiger trade and phase out tiger farms. And HSI is working to reduce international demand for tiger products, releasing a children’s book about tigers and the issues that threaten their survival, produced in partnership with the Vietnamese government. The model for the book is a similar project that helped reduce demand for rhino horn by 33 percent in one year.

The United States has a critical role to play in the global effort to save this iconic species from extinction, and we must lead by example. Until our federal government takes decisive action to stop the frivolous breeding and domestic trade of tigers, it will continue to impede our ability to urge Asian tiger range countries to take action to do the same. Later this summer at the United Nations CITES Conference of the Parties meeting in South Africa, there will be opportunity to take action to address the abuse of captive tigers in American roadside zoos and Chinese tiger farms in an effort to ensure that the global captive population of tigers is managed to promote the conservation of the species and to protect the welfare of the individual tigers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TSCA Reform Could Save Millions of Animal Lives

The House of Representatives today debated H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a compromise bill produced after months of negotiation between key parties in the House and Senate to modernize and reform the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The House will vote on the bill tonight and the Senate is expected to take it up as soon as tomorrow. 

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

We are strongly urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, because tucked into this massive final package is a huge win for animals: unprecedented language that could save hundreds of thousands of rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals from suffering and dying in laboratory experiments in the very short term to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. My colleague Wayne Pacelle wrote about the prospect of this advance in detail in The Humane Economy, and now this moment is upon us.

These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. The new bill would dramatically reduce—if not eliminate, in some cases—the use of animals in these tests, and would also improve the science behind chemical testing, and encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health. It makes chemical testing smarter, faster, and more reliable for regulatory decision-making, and will provide momentum to continually update the science and reduce animal use.

When it comes to human and environmental health, our historic animal testing-based approach is fundamentally flawed; the science incorporated into the original TSCA decades ago has stymied EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals. To generate screening data for a single chemical, it currently takes three years and $6 million, and the results are often highly variable, difficult to interpret (leading to years of argument and dispute), and not easily applied to regulatory action (often leading the agency to ask for more and more data, nearly all of which is inconclusive)—hence EPA has regulated only a handful of chemicals in 40 years.

Because of the failure of this testing approach, the National Academies of Sciences was asked to come up with a better way. The approach NAS recommended capitalizes on our vast knowledge of chemistry and biology and modern technology to design highly reliable tests that measure chemical effects on critical biological pathways. This revelation has resulted in an emerging consensus among scientists and regulators around the world, including the EPA, that this forward-looking approach is the best regulatory framework for the future. It will be much less costly, faster, and yield more reliable results. This new scientific approach will also be far more humane, as it involves a shift away from animal testing. By requiring the reduction of animal use, H.R. 2576 spurs the implementation of the best available science, which will dramatically improve EPA’s ability to responsibly and more efficiently regulate chemicals and more meaningfully protect the American public from hazardous substances.

Toxicity testing is a particularly cruel use of animals, often involving poisoning until death or some disease state is achieved. It is important to note that 95 percent of animals used in research, including chemical testing, are not protected by law in the U.S. (mice, rats, and birds are specifically excluded from provisions of the Animal Welfare Act). This is in dramatic contrast to the situation in the world’s largest economy, the European Union, where all vertebrates (and some non-vertebrates) are protected in all scientific uses. The European Commission requires that non-animal methods are preferred, and every procedure using animals must be submitted for approval by the government. In addition, the European Union’s toxic chemicals law stipulates reduction of animal testing as an overarching principle, and requires use of all approaches not involving animals first, with animal testing only as a last resort. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act provides the first such protection for animals used in testing in the U.S.

We are immensely grateful to the many members of Congress who pushed for the animal testing language to be included in the final package, especially Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who developed and advocated for the strong anti-animal testing language in their version of the bill. There is still time to contact your members of Congress and urge them to vote yes on H.R. 2576. This is a landmark opportunity to save millions of animals while addressing key health and environmental concerns.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Look Back at the First Session of the 114th Congress

Editor's note: This post was originally published on December 29, 2015 at 12:17 p.m. and has been updated to include the list of legislators who led the way on these important measures and the updated cosponsor numbers on our priority bills for 2016.

Federal lawmakers have concluded their work for 2015, and will pick up where they left off in mid-January. Washington saw plenty of gridlock this year, but there were also several important victories for animal protection, including bills that made it over the finish line or have the momentum to do so next year. Here’s my rundown of the advances for animals during the 2015 session:

Omnibus (Consolidated Appropriations Act) Highlights:

A number of the victories for animals came with the $1.1 trillion omnibus funding package (P.L. 114-113), signed into law just before Christmas. With a number of critical animal issues in play, the bill was essentially a clean sweep on all of them, with gains in the following areas:

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Language in the omnibus prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption.Photo by Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse slaughter – The omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants.This effectively prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption – a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.
Leads: Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – The omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is needed more urgently than ever. 
Leads: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

ARS research on farm animals – The omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds five percent of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 
Leads: Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Udall, Feinstein, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Booker, D-N.J., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Farr, Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Buchanan.

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – The omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 
Leads: Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., David Price, D-N.C., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

Maternal deprivation – The omnibus incorporates by reference House committee report language calling on the NIH to review (in consultation with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for nonhuman primate research, language that already helped spur NIH to develop a plan to close down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had occurred involving maternal deprivation for infant monkeys.
Leads: Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Farr.

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The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Photo by iStockphoto

Ivory rule – The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Illegal poaching of elephants has reached epidemic proportions, and extinction in the wild looms unless strong action is taken to curb demand. The United States is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents committed publicly in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.
Leads: Sen. Feinstein, and Reps. Grijalva, Peter King, R-N.Y., McCollum, and Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

Wildlife trafficking enforcement – The omnibus provides not less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel that the secretary of state determines are credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking, unless the secretary reports that such expenditure is in the national security interests of the United States. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises internationally, helping finance organized criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Janjaweed and Lord’s Resistance Army. 
Leads: Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Coons.

Class B dealers – The omnibus denies funds for the USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats, often obtained fraudulently and kept in horrible conditions before being sold for laboratory experiments. These dealers have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves at animal shelters and in responding to “free to good home” ads.  The vast majority of research facilities long ago stopped relying on such dealers, and in recent years, NIH has prohibited funds for research involving cats and dogs acquired that way. The number of Class B dealers has gone from hundreds two decades ago to only two remaining currently.
Lead: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.

Animal welfare enforcement – The omnibus maintains funding for the USDA to enforce and implement key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act that provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites, including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, and circuses; the Horse Protection Act dealing with cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds (deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait and win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; the federal animal fighting law; and a program that encourages veterinarians, through student loan repayment assistance, to locate in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions.
Leads: Sens. Boxer David Vitter, R-La., and Merkley, and Reps. Chris Smith, Blumenauer, and Farr.

Wild horses – The omnibus restates the long-standing ban on the killing of healthy wild horses and burros and sale for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management, including reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.
Leads: Reps. Calvert and McCollum.

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The omnibus incorporates language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals. Photo by iStockphoto

Marine mammals – The omnibus incorporates by reference Senate committee report language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals, including orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales.
Leads: Sens. Feinstein and Merkley.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – The omnibus contains a 47 percent increase in funding for this program that protects and improves habitat for wildlife and recreational access for nature lovers.

Pet food – The omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.
Leads: Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Reps. DeLauro, Farr, and Pingree.

Authorizing Bill Highlights:

Alternatives to animal testing – The Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act by voice vote in December, reauthorizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the first time since it was signed into law almost 40 years ago. The Senate bill contains landmark provisions to reduce – if not eliminate – the use of live animals for chemical testing.  Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats, and dropped in their eyes, sometimes over a prolonged period, causing horrific deaths.  If these provisions are enacted, it will benefit animals, consumers, industry, and the environment by spurring the use of modern, science-based alternatives that are much more efficient and yield better safety decisions than antiquated animal toxicity testing. The House had already passed its version of TSCA, so we hope House-Senate conferees will hammer out their differences quickly in 2016 and, no matter what, retain the vital Senate language on animal testing.
Leads: Sens. Booker, Udall, and Vitter.

Amtrak and pets – Congress enacted a transportation package with an amendment directing Amtrak to develop a program that allows passengers to carry their cats and dogs on board certain trains. This will create more opportunities for pets to remain with their families when they have no one to care for them during travel or need to permanently relocate.
Leads: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Kirk, and Feinstein, and Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.  

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House and Senate bills named after Cecil the lion were introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. Photo by 500px Prime

Military working dogs – Congress also enacted a defense authorization bill with an amendment to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by their former handlers and their families, law enforcement agencies, or other individuals who will humanely care for these animals. This provision honors the special bond between service members and their trusted dogs.
Leads: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.

Wildlife trafficking – The House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act by voice vote in November to make wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses under the Travel Act, Money Laundering, and RICO statutes; designate major wildlife trafficking countries; authorize the U.S. Department of Defense to provide training and equipment to fight poaching on the front lines; and promote other needed reforms. Related bills introduced in the Senate have bipartisan support – the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act and the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. In the House, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants and Rhinoceros (TUSKER) Act would provide for trade sanctions against countries involved in illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. House and Senate bills named after Cecil, the lion killed by a U.S. trophy hunter, were also introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. We are hopeful that both chambers will reach agreement to pull together key elements of these various bills and enact needed reforms early in 2016.
Leads: Sens. Feinstein, Graham, Coons, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Menendez, and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., DeFazio, Grijalva, and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

New and reintroduced priority bills – We are halfway through the 114th Congress, and there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for other priority animal protection legislation. With the momentum building for these bills, we are hopeful they will get over the finish line in 2016, including:

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act – to strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of malicious animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, or on federal property (213 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Blumenauer.
  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act – to make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by: 1) allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and 2) authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently only three percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter (185 House cosponsors and 27 Senate cosponsors). 
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Peters, and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. 
  • Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – to amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and certain other breeds to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows (246 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Fitzpatrick, Cohen, David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
  • Humane Cosmetics Act – to phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States, as is the case for more than 1.7 billion consumers who live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India (145 House cosponsors).
    Leads: Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.
  • Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act – to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption (184 House cosponsors and 29 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Menendez, Graham, Mikulski, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Guinta, Schakowsky, Buchanan, and Lujan Grisham.
  • Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act – to permanently close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that exempts farm animals used for agricultural research at federal government facilities, and ensure that these animals receive the basic care required under the law (83 House cosponsors and 10 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Booker and Blumenthal, and Reps. Blumenauer, Fitzpatrick, Slaughter, and Buchanan.
  • Big Cats and Primates as Pets – to protect public safety and animal welfare, the Captive Primate Safety Act (66 House cosponsors) would bar the interstate trade in chimpanzees and monkeys as pets, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act (50 House cosponsors) would prohibit private ownership of dangerous big cats such as tigers and lions as pets. 
    Leads: Reps. Fitzpatrick, Blumenauer, and Walter Jones, R-N.C.

There were dozens of other bills introduced demonstrating the broad interest in animal protection among lawmakers and the public. This year’s results demonstrated that it is still possible to get good things done for animals and that our issues continue to transcend the partisan divide. We look forward to a robust second session of the 114th Congress beginning in January and to the renewed engagement of advocates across the country.  It is this engagement that makes all the difference to our success.

Ask your lawmakers to act on these priority bills»

Monday, January 11, 2016

Manatees Slated to Lose Protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently made some important advances toward protecting imperiled species from harm—including the listing of African lions under the Endangered Species Act, upgrading captive chimpanzees to an endangered listing, and closing loopholes in the domestic ivory trade to crack down on elephant poaching.

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Andrew Pearson/Alamy Stock Photo

Unfortunately the agency has started off 2016 with an action that goes in the wrong direction, proposing to downgrade the West Indian manatee, which includes all Florida manatees, from endangered to the lesser status of threatened under the ESA. The FWS says that even with a threatened listing it would continue to implement plans for recovery of the species, and we urge it to follow through on that intent. Changing the manatee’s status to threatened, however, opens the door for the loosening of restrictions on future proposals for coastal development and other human activities that could cause harm and risk to the species. And it sends a signal to local and state decision-makers that protections are no longer needed and can be weakened.

This proposed reclassification was spurred by a property rights and boating interest group petitioning, then suing, the federal government to reduce protections for manatees. Ignoring the evidence of hundreds of manatee deaths in 2010 due to cold weather, the group objected to strict speed limits in areas where manatees congregate—in estuaries, bays, and rivers along the Florida coast.

Manatees are slow-moving animals, and in the past two years, boat strikes were one of the top two causes of death for them. Despite posted speed limits, 87 manatees were killed by watercraft in 2015 alone, with almost 400 dying in collisions over the past five years, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It’s rare to see a manatee who doesn’t bear scars or mutilations from collisions with watercraft.

When a species makes substantial progress towards recovery, decreasing the species’ status from endangered to threatened may in some cases be supported by science, and a species designated as threatened may benefit from the flexible management scheme such listing affords. The HSUS and other groups, for example, proposed that gray wolves be designated as threatened to allow wildlife managers more opportunity to address conflicts with wolves while retaining needed federal oversight of the species’ continued recovery. But the manatee still faces many serious threats, and the downlisting is premature and risk-laden.

Warm water habitat in the manatee’s range is being lost, and the USFWS itself predicts that populations will still decline in some parts of Florida. Human activities have continued to encroach on manatee habitat, limiting their access to natural springs that provide warm water in winter. To avoid freezing, around 60 percent of Florida manatees now rely on warmer waters near power plants—most of which are slated to be closed in the next 50 years.

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Cultura RM/Alamy Stock Photo

Other serious threats to manatees continue to emerge. Record-breaking cold snaps and harmful algae blooms (or red tides, which can be exacerbated by pollution) contributed to the deaths of 1,600 Florida manatees over the past three years. These toxic algal blooms don’t just poison manatees; they can also destroy their food sources. More than 47,000 acres of sea grass beds were killed off in the Indian River Lagoon alone. Water resources may also become scarce: cattle ranchers recently applied for a permit to pull 1.12 million gallons of water per day near a manatee habitat in the St. John’s River region.

Manatees are a national treasure, a major tourist draw, and an important part of the southeastern ecosystem. After four decades of federal protection, many threats still face these gentle giants swimming in Florida waters, and they have struggled to survive the damaging effects of increasing human activities. Are we so miserly as a species that we can’t slow down when boating in certain areas, or exercise some restraint on further development in manatee habitat?

As Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said in response to this proposed rule, “Manatees have become an iconic symbol for the wilderness and beauty of Florida. They are an engine in our economy even as they are a restorative presence in our tranquil waters. We must do everything possible to protect this treasured species.”

 

If you have a moment, please add your voice and contact the USFWS to urge that the agency keep manatees listed as endangered under the ESA and ensure their protections remain strong.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Lawmakers Taking a Stand to Protect the Salt River Horses

The U.S. Forest Service has sparked a national outrage with its new plan to remove all of the horses from one of the nation’s most iconic herds—the Salt River horses—from Tonto National Forest in Arizona. 

In 1971, Congress codified the important place horses hold in American life through the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, declaring that horses are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West. The act bound federal agencies to protect and manage wild horses living on our public lands, and noted that where horses were found, they were to be considered an integral part of the natural system. 

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A Salt River horse foal
Source: KPHO/KTVK

Shockingly, the Forest Service has failed to acknowledge the horses of the Salt River herd as wild, deserving the protections that Congress intended. Instead, the agency claims the horses have been released onto the land, and designates them instead as abandoned livestock. Removing these iconic horses based on a technical loophole would allow them to be sent to livestock auctions—where kill buyers are waiting to peddle horse flesh to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico.

One thing is clear: the public is outraged by the Forest Service’s proposed action. 

Tourists come from across the nation to visit and photograph the forest with specific hopes of catching a glimpse of one of these beautiful animals. Their removal could have a great ecological impact on the park, and threatens an economic blow to Arizona and the national forest system. 

Fortunately, federal and state lawmakers are also not taking this action lightly.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has called on the Forest Service to halt its plans to remove the horses from Tonto National Forest. Representatives Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noting that wild horses are an integral part of America’s West, and asking for an immediate halt to their removal. Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, also weighed in with a letter questioning the need for immediate removal of the horses, who have been living safely within the forest’s borders for decades. Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., requested that the Forest Service cease all management activities until the public has had a sufficient chance to participate in the process.

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey—who is establishing a solid animal protection record after vetoing the state’s bill to exclude farm animals from the regular cruelty code—is also speaking out for the horses. He tweeted that the Forest Service should leave the Salt River horses alone, promising that Arizona would provide them with sanctuary if the federal government wouldn’t. 

Local citizens have offered to partner with the government to solve this problem, but the Forest Service has rebuffed the offer of assistance. This is the type of public-private partnership, and constructive problem solving, that our government agencies should encourage, not reject. Public officials should encourage citizen participation, not shut it down.

We are grateful to federal and state policymakers for standing up for what’s right, and urging the Forest Service to reconsider its plan to remove the Salt River horses from their home in Tonto National Forest.  Our nation’s horses simply deserve better, and this time they have some powerful advocates making sure they get it.

Please help support the effort by letting the Forest Service know you oppose its plan. »

 

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