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July 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

Aquatic Accommodations

It’s been a good week for marine life. The House of Representatives emphatically passed two bills to protect sea otters and turtles. A New York Times editorial called for an end to the cruel and wasteful practice of cutting the fins off sharks in American waters, and celebrity chef Alice Waters joined the fight to boycott shark fin soup. Also, the documentary film “The Cove,” which opens tonight in theaters, pulls the curtain back on the clandestine dolphin slaughters in Japan for the aquarium and theme park industry.

It's time to end the cruel practice of shark finning.

The week’s advances follow a steady drumbeat of recent victories for ocean creatures. Earlier this year, the House passed legislation to crack down on shark finning, which is now pending in the Senate, and previously a resolution calling on the International Whaling Commission to remain firmly opposed to commercial whaling. Both chambers of Congress have now passed resolutions urging Canada to end the shooting and clubbing of baby seals for their fur pelts—the world’s largest commercial slaughter of mammals. The HSUS has won legal challenges to protect endangered right whales from becoming tangled in fishing gear, and to stop invasive research methods such as hot branding on endangered Steller sea lions.

While some of these fights will continue to play out before they’re resolved, one years-long maritime battle came one step closer to being settled for good last week. Despite a promise to veto any non-budget legislation that landed on his desk during the recent protracted budget impasse in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger picked up his pen and enacted urgent legislation allowing the city of San Diego to protect a group of seals in La Jolla. This action gives seal lovers hope that their long-drawn-out tug of war over a tiny patch of beach may be in the homestretch.

For more than a decade, the seals’ fate has been tossed back and forth like a beach ball. State courts ruled that the 1931 Tidewaters Trust required that the beach be maintained as a swimming spot for children, and therefore seals had to be ejected. Federal courts delayed dispersal of the seals while considering implications under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Senate Bill 428, introduced by state Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) and coauthored by Assemblymembers Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) and Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego), finally gives the city of San Diego the discretion to allow marine mammals to inhabit the Children’s Pool. The city of San Diego, The HSUS, the Animal Protection & Rescue League, the La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and other San Diego groups and advocates worked hard to ensure passage of this important legislation. 

The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support from both the Assembly and the Senate. On the morning that Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, state Judge Stanley Hoffman had just issued an order giving San Diego officials only 72 hours to begin removing the seals—but the governor’s action prompted Judge Hoffman to stay the order and literally granted the seals an eleventh-hour reprieve.

Gov. Schwarzenegger recently approved legislation to help protect La Jolla seals.

If the city had been forced to remove the seals—at a cost to taxpayers of about $700,000—an important rookery would have been destroyed, threatening the integrity of the colony. Research has documented the bonds between female seals that outlast the actual natal rookery and help maintain colony integrity until the next birthing season. Thanks to state lawmakers’ intervention, the city now has the authority to preserve the seals’ habitat as well as an important and beloved San Diego institution.

A recent survey indicates that nearly two-thirds of San Diego residents want the seals to keep their place on the beach. And the San Diego Union-Tribune has crusaded for seal protection on its editorial page, calling for the city council to “stand firmly on the side of the seals.” Now the city can end this costly and bitter battle once and for all, and do right by the seals who are treasured by the San Diego community and its tourists.

If a group of people who’ve been the victims of shark attacks can travel to Congress to lobby for shark protection, then surely a group of swimmers who’ve never been harmed by seals can share a little piece of the beach with these creatures. We must strike a balance between our interests and theirs, because it’s in our interest, too, that seals, sharks, sea otters, turtles, whales, and other marine life always has a place on this planet.

    San Diego Union-Tribune

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Animals on the Hill, and in “The Hill”

The Hill, a “must read” newspaper for Washington policy makers, this week published a special edition on animal welfare for the first time in its 15 years of publication. It could not have been more timely, as hundreds of animal advocates from around the country descended on Capitol Hill after attending the Taking Action for Animals conference, rallying and lobbying Congress to pass legislation on horse slaughter, fur labeling, puppy mills, chimps in research, and other critical issues.

Ginnifer goodwin
Actress Ginnifer Goodwin joined other animal advocates to lobby for animals on the Hill.

The animal welfare report includes columns by many of the leading humane champions in Congress: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on stopping the inhumane slaughter of horses for food exports; Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on promoting public safety and the welfare of primates by barring the trade in these strong and intelligent creatures; Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) on requiring labels on fur-trimmed jackets so consumers don’t unwittingly purchase animal fur advertised as “faux”; Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) on the trafficking in stolen pets for research by unscrupulous Class B dealers; and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) on the link between animal cruelty and fighting and other violent crimes in society.

The edition closes with a piece by “Big Love” and “He’s Just Not That Into You” star Ginnifer Goodwin, recounting her visit to our conference and lobby day and her advocacy for animal protection legislation on the Hill. Originally from Tennessee, she writes “that caring about animals is a mainstream concern, and it’s important to Americans of all political stripes in urban and rural areas.” This collection of articles in The Hill confirms that animal welfare is on the political map and our issues are a major part of the policy debate.

Not surprisingly, the detractors had their say, too. There aren't any pieces by the animal fighting lobby or the pet chimp lobby, but Reps. David Scott (D-Ga.), Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) trot out the party line of Big Agribusiness. Scott and Schmidt particularly launch a direct attack on animal advocates, under the tired pretense of calling for science, not emotion, to drive farm animal welfare policy. They condemn “the propaganda being proffered by” advocates for animals, consumers, the environment, and public health, and they criticize people who “anthropomorphize our animals” and have a “lack of knowledge about agriculture.” Advocating for states’ rights only when it’s convenient, they attack state laws that ban crates and cages for veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens, and even claim that chickens are happier in cages where they won’t run into a fox or other predator.

They’re talking not about sound science, but things that just sound like science. In reality, the science, not emotion, says that hens built to move should be allowed to move.

The lawmakers doing the bidding for Big Agribusiness simply don’t get that the American public wants to see all animals treated humanely, including animals raised for food. Farmers are innovative and are adapting to the changing needs of society. Six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, and Oregon—have banned certain crates and cages where animals are immobilized for their entire lives on industrial factory farms. Proposition 2 in California won the support not only of urban voters but also a majority of rural voters in the largest egg-producing counties. Some of the nation’s largest veal, pork and egg producers are aleady moving away from extreme confinement systems. Retailers like Burger King, Safeway, and Wendy’s are increasingly phasing in crate-free pork and cage-free eggs because consumers are demanding a higher standard.

Books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, and films like “Food, Inc.,” are showing the public the recklessness of Big Agriculture, and in particular factory farming. Congress has an obligation not only to tackle the animal welfare issues that have little or no organized opposition, but also the issues that have entrenched special interests attempting to stand in the way of reasonable reform.

In the last two weeks alone, the House has passed important bills to protect wild horses, sea otters, and marine turtles, with others primed for passage in both chambers. As this week’s issue of The Hill makes abundantly clear, more and more members are rising to the challenge—putting their by-lines and their votes to work for a more humane future.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Congress Oughta Protect Otters

Legislation can move slowly in Congress, but there are several wildlife protection bills moving with the speed and grace of a cheetah. Thanks largely to the leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), and National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the House has already passed measures this year to protect sharks, cranes, rare canines and felines, captive primates, and wild horses and burros.

The Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act would
promote the recovery of these magnificent mammals.

The House will consider another important bill next week to help imperiled sea otters—magnificent creatures of our coastal waters who use tools for feeding and spend hours grooming to keep their fur waterproof by coating it with skin oil. Once nearly exterminated by fur trappers, sea otters made a comeback in the last century but are still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

H.R. 556, the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act, was introduced by longtime animal protection champion Representative Sam Farr (D-Calif.). The bill reconstitutes a team of scientists under the Endangered Species Act to monitor and promote the recovery of this threatened marine mammal and authorizes funding for scientific research to support this purpose.

The legislation could not come at a more critical time, as a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the sea otter population along California’s coast experienced the most alarming decline in a decade. Lab tests show the otters are dying off from bacteria, viruses, and parasites, coming from urban sewage and agricultural runoff that pollutes creeks and coastal waters.

While Congress is more than justified in passing laws to protect a single species—the African Elephant Conservation Act, for example—Farr’s bill does more than just protect sea otters. As a keystone species, the otters play a vitally important role in maintaining the health of California’s central coast marine ecosystem. Protecting sea otters will also protect the coastal ocean as a healthy and productive environment capable of supporting innumerable other marine species in addition to fishing, recreation, and tourism—industries valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Like polar bears in the Arctic, sea otters can sound the alarm for larger problems. They are the canaries in the marine coalmine, and Congress should heed the warning by passing H.R. 556.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healing Heroes and Helping Hounds

The bond between people and animals is a strong one—and can even be a healing one. Pets are good for our emotional and physical health, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Caring for a companion animal provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessens feelings of loneliness and isolation in people of all ages.

H.R. 3266 aims to pair vets with pets.

For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them reenter society and avoid stress or depression. And if the soldier suffered serious injuries while serving our country, a service dog can provide much-needed assistance and critical care.

A new bill introduced by Representatives Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) will help place dogs with men and women of the military. H.R. 3266, the Wounded Warrior K-9 Corps Act, would establish a program to award grants to nonprofit organizations that provide wounded warriors and disabled veterans with service animals such as physical therapy dogs and guide dogs. The grants will help organizations implement programs that pair assistance dogs with eligible veterans and soldiers who suffer from loss of vision, hearing, or a limb, or a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a number of other injuries. The “commitment of the organization to humane standards for animals” is one of the bill’s criteria for receiving a grant.

The newest U.S. senator, Al Franken (D-Minn.), also announced that the first bill he plans to introduce will seek to make the service dog program more affordable for our troops. He wrote in the Star Tribune about the many benefits of service dogs:

Yes, they provide companionship. But they can also detect changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling. They are trained to let their masters know when it’s time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares.

Service dogs raise their masters’ sense of well-being. There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.

It’s clear that this human-animal relationship helps our veterans, but it can help animals, too. Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman, who brought a dog home from Iraq, has become a big booster of such efforts to pair vets with pets.

There is, in fact, innovative work being done around the country that is demonstrably healing broken lives, both canine and human: My friend and celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller helped launch a program called Operation Heroes and Hounds at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Southern California. She is teaching wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan how to train shelter dogs to make the dogs more adoptable. Both service members and shelter dogs learn a new set of skills that will make a positive impact on their future.

Let’s hope such programs expand across the country. A rising tide of compassion lifts all boats—it’s a way to support the men and women who served our country, and give a second chance to the animals who ended up in shelters through no fault of their own.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Obstructionist Lawmakers Harm Animals and the Economy

The U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed H.R. 1018, the Restore Our American Mustangs Act, by a vote of 239-185. This legislation championed by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) seeks to put a stop to the commercial slaughter of wild horses, and to encourage more humane and fiscally responsible management of mustangs on the range through fertility control and adoption. It would save millions of tax dollars each year, and would create a better framework than the current system, which relies on costly round-ups and the keeping of captive horses in federal holding pens where they essentially live on the government dole.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Restoring
Our American Mustangs Act today by a vote of 239-185.

But the debate on the House floor this morning underscored that there is a small cabal of out-of-touch lawmakers who take every opportunity to belittle and bemoan animal welfare issues, no matter how moderate and sensible. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the worst offender, and he spoke against the bill today along with Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who said she’s a big animal lover but has a record that reflects quite the opposite stance. Boehner and King are the House’s worst two members on animal welfare and they routinely defend the nation’s worst forms of animal abuse, including horse slaughter and animal fighting. Boehner today called the wild horse protection bill “an insult” to the American people, and said we should spend our time on national priorities other than mustangs.

It was déjà vu from this February when the House approved a public safety and animal welfare bill by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to ban the trade in primates as pets, after a pet chimpanzee viciously attacked a Connecticut woman and left her severely disfigured. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) mocked that bill on the House floor, and said the work of Congress is too important to spend time on “monkey bites.” Tell that to Charla Nash, whose face and hands were bitten off. We provided similar warnings on keeping large constricting snakes, and now sure enough, there was a two-year-old girl killed in her home two weeks ago after a pet Burmese python escaped from its enclosure. You can be sure Boehner and King will oppose legislation introduced by Representative Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) to crack down on the trade in pythons as exotic pets, no matter the human toll.

A similar scene is now playing out on the opposite coast in California, where California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is using YouTube and Twitter to mock an animal cruelty bill. S.B. 135, introduced by Senate Majority Leader and Food & Agriculture Committee Chairman Dean Florez (D-Shafter), would ban the tail docking of dairy cows. The policy of stopping this painful and unnecessary mutilation is backed by animal welfare groups, veterinarians, and even the California Farm Bureau, and it passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin. But Schwarzenegger dismisses the discussion of “cow’s tails” while there’s a budget crisis in the state.

We all know there’s a budget crisis, and government priorities like creating jobs and fixing the economy. But legislators should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. While they sort out the big subjects, and allow themselves to get locked into partisan battles day after day instead of solving these big problems, they can’t ignore the quotidian responsibilities of lawmaking. Animal welfare is just one of the many issues that is important to mainstream Americans, and our elected officials can spend just a little bit of time moving the ball forward for these creatures, as they can do for other important but lower-profile issues. It’s not an either-or proposition between animals and jobs, and they can’t just expect to pass one bill each week and spend the rest of the time tanning or playing the back nine.

If they were truly concerned about the economy, self-described fiscal conservatives like Boehner, Bishop, and King should have been the first to line up today in support of the mustang legislation. The current program is a fiscal disaster, with the Bureau of Land Management stuck on a treadmill spending millions of tax dollars essentially running captive horse shelters. The Rahall bill maps out a better pathway, and will save American taxpayers at least $6 million each year just by keeping the population numbers in check through fertility control on the range, as an alternative to costly round-ups and long-term horse care.

Saving horses and saving tax dollars shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Thirty-three Republicans voted in favor of the bill today, including many fiscal conservatives like Representatives Dan Burton (R-Ind.), John Campbell (R-Calif.), and Thad McCotter (R-Mich.), and we thank them for their support of a more humane and more fiscally responsible policy. Other Republicans, like Representatives Whitfield and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif), are stalwart animal advocates. But the obstinate ones just don’t see the big picture, and they will gladly stand in the way of any modest animal welfare reform—even if it means they must continue fleecing the American taxpayers to do it and allowing cruelty to occur without intervention.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Putting a Hold on Compassion

The confirmation process for federal appointments can be a long row to hoe, as we are now seeing with the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. But the agriculture metaphor is even more relevant for Cass Sunstein, the Harvard Law School professor and constitutional scholar who is President Obama’s pick to be regulatory czar, or more technically the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

President Obama's pick for Administrator of
the Office of Information and Regulatory
Affairs, Cass Sunstein.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) put a hold on Sunstein’s confirmation—apparently at the urging of some agribusiness groups—because Sunstein’s long and distinguished legal career has included some writings about animal protection issues. He is the co-editor, for example, of Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, which examines the emerging field of animal law through a variety of perspectives (including articles from authors who argue vehemently both for and against animal protection reforms).

It’s an odd reason to hold up an important agency appointment, particularly because OIRA is not charged with developing regulations itself and it’s not the views of the OIRA Administrator that will drive public policy. OIRA doesn’t determine if regulations will be harsh or lenient, and it is not designed to perform a major ideological function, though of course there are political considerations that do come into play. Its job is to review what other agencies do—essentially, to perform a quality control function—making sure proper regulatory procedures are followed, cost-benefit analysis is done, and other steps are taken. 

If approved, Sunstein won’t be in a policy position governing farm animals, the environment, or anything else. It will be the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and others that issue regulations on animal welfare issues, and then OIRA will make sure they went through the appropriate process. If Chambliss has a goal of making things harder for animal welfare advocates or easier for agribusiness interests, he’s picked the wrong nomination to block.

But more importantly, caring about animals, or having thoughtful opinions about regulating their use and treatment in various contexts, should not disqualify someone from holding federal office. Politicians should consider a compassionate concern for animals to be a personal and even political asset for candidates for major executive offices. Compassion and kindness to other creatures are mainstream values held by the best of all people, and it’s exactly what we should want to see in our public servants. Big Ag thinks it’s fine when its lobbyists and executives get agency posts, but just let one fellow who has said something serious on animal welfare be nominated and the artillery rolls out.

In the past, Chambliss has been helpful on animal welfare issues. For example, as Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he supported several provisions in last year’s Farm Bill that strengthened the federal law to combat animal fighting, barred the imports of puppies from foreign puppy mills, and upgraded the penalties for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. We thank him for that support. These kinds of legal changes are precisely why Americans need a regulatory czar like Cass Sunstein in charge of OIRA—to make sure the federal agencies properly implement regulations to enforce these new laws.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Strong Federal Law Brings the Hammer Down on Dogfighters

Yesterday’s coordinated dogfighting raids across eight states vividly demonstrate why we worked so vigorously and for so long to pass a federal law making animal fighting a felony crime.

Pitbull credit HSUS
The largest one-day string of raids in U.S. history
occurred yesterday across eight states.

Dogfighting is an offense without borders. And that means federal law enforcement leadership is needed to cut this sickness out of our society. Starting before dawn yesterday, that’s just what we got—the largest one-day string of raids in U.S. history.

The whole brutal subculture of organized dogfighting was stunned when federal agents and task forces of state and local authorities, backed by experts from The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society of Missouri, and other concerned organizations, swept through Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska and—at the very heart of things—Missouri.

Dogs—more than 450—who were destined to fight to the death in the bloody pit were saved and taken to emergency shelters. The flagrant disregard that dogfighters routinely show for society’s norms was replaced by the snap of handcuffs and the slap of 30 or so arrest warrants. And, a jolt of fear was sent coursing through the remainder of this sordid underground of organized crime. The Texas indictment that led to nine of the arrests was stark and ringing in its language. It charged the defendants with: “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.

If you know much about dogfighting, as I do, you understand that its devotees rely upon a well-developed communications network. Yesterday, the urgent message that pulsed from one fighting kennel to another was as plain as the glint of a G-man’s badge: “Dogfighters, your days are numbered.”

So, let me say thanks. Thanks to all of you who supported the Humane Society Legislative Fund in our campaign to pass the 2007 bill that made these raids possible—and the 2008 follow-up that means dogfighters face a well deserved five years in the lock-up. A tip of my hat to each of you. Your phone calls, your emails, your letters, your door-to-door lobbying efforts paid off big time. Thanks, too, to U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), and John Kerry (D-Mass.); Representatives Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), and Betty Sutton (D-Ohio); and Senate and House Judiciary Chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.); all of whom championed this fight in Congress and worked with their colleagues and leadership to get the job done.

Thanks to all who have supported our efforts
to crack down on dogfighting.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General whose agents led the raids. Thanks to the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the state and local officers who joined in making ours a better country yesterday. Thanks to the U.S. attorneys, who were willing to make this series of raids a priority because they know what a wellspring of horror dogfighting is for animals, people, and entire communities. Thanks to our colleagues at the Humane Society of Missouri whose investigation set off the chain of events. They led the way yesterday for a constellation of humane organizations that committed resources, expertise, volunteers and energy—including United Animal Nations, the ASPCA, and PetSmart Charities. The HSUS acted as lead animal welfare agency in the rescues in Texas and Oklahoma and assisted the HSMO with the rescues conducted in Missouri and Illinois. But there is plenty of credit to share.

Let’s not forget one important group. After all, humane organizations don’t get taxpayers to cover the tens of thousands of dollars expended and weeks of planning that went into yesterday’s raids. That means that millions of rank-and-file Americans who send donations to HSUS and other animal welfare groups deserve, as much as any of us, the nation’s gratitude. And when you donate to HSLF, you help make sure the nation’s animal protection laws have teeth. Friends, please take a bow.

Thanks to all of you, there are dogs who sleep tonight in safer places.

And for those suffering animals still trapped in the grim clutch of the dogfighters, we’ll get there as soon as we can and we won’t rest along the way.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Legislation to Ensure Bird Killers Become Jailbirds

It was one of the most shocking and sickening scourges of bird-related crime since Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. A 14-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s law enforcement division revealed that thousands of peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, and red-tailed hawks were deliberately killed in California, Oregon, and Washington. The culprits were members of “roller pigeon clubs”—enthusiasts of domestic pigeons specially bred for their seizure-like ability to do rapid backward somersaults while flying. To protect their aerial acrobats from any chance encounter with a predator, these callous club members killed the protected birds of prey by shooting, trapping, poisoning, clubbing, baiting birds into glass panels, and even baiting birds with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks.

Peregrine Falcon credit H20 Alchemist/CreativeCommonsSearch
Thousands of birds have been tortured and killed 
in California, Oregon and Washington.

Ted Williams cataloged in Audubon Magazine some of the particularly ghastly and gleeful quotes from roller pigeon club members bragging about killing the birds. One individual told an undercover agent that after he catches hawks, at the rate of about one per week, he “pummels them with a stick” and that it is a “great thing…you’ll see, you get a lot of frustration out.” Another advised: “Just put some draino liquid on some of your weaker birds and let them take them and bye bye baby. Make sure you rub it on the back of their necks.”

Four of the peregrine falcons had hatched from eggs that had been rescued by the Audubon Society of Portland from a bridge under construction. The fledglings were raised with great care until they could be released into the wild on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. A roller pigeon fan shot them across the street from the refuge, and then recounted the tale: “I laughed and laughed when I heard this story because of all the pain staking measures they took to get these birds to adolescence and than to have somone take them out simply was bliss!!”

Despite the premeditated and rampant nature of these illegal killings, the men involved were sentenced with modest fines, community service, and probation. Unlike the raptors themselves, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act simply has no teeth. Convicted bird killers routinely escape with little more than a slap on the wrist, since the federal penalty for killing a protected bird is only a Class B misdemeanor. You face the same penalty for killing a falcon or hawk as you would for the unauthorized use of the Forest Service’s “Woodsy Owl” and “Smokey Bear” characters.

As we have seen with dogfighters and cockfighters, people who intentionally break the law will not be deterred by anemic penalties, which they consider simply the cost of doing business. It’s only now that all 50 states have felony penalties for dogfighting, 39 states have felony penalties for cockfighting, and we have a strong national policy making animal fighting a federal felony, that we have begun to see a major dismantling of organized animal fighting rings. (The cockfighters, too, are repeat offenders when it comes to killing migratory birds. They leave fighting roosters tied up outside in yards, and use “catch poles” mounted with steel-jawed leghold traps and baited with meat to kill hawks, eagles, and owls who descend toward the gamefowl.)

In response to this problem, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has introduced H.R. 2062, the Migratory Bird Treaty Penalty and Enforcement Act, which would provide a much-needed upgrade to one of the nation’s most important conservation laws. The bill would give federal prosecutors the option of pursuing felony-level penalties for the intentional killing of raptors, and would finally provide a meaningful deterrent of prison time and hefty fines.

“Like the recent horrific practice of dog fighting and the subsequent congressional response, it is time that Congress act to give the federal government expanded authority to prosecute and punish violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects raptors and birds of prey like the peregrine falcon,” said DeFazio. “Even the most egregious violations have resulting in nothing more than slaps on the wrist.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed nearly a century ago, with the goal of protecting the winged creatures in our skies from needless killing. By passing Rep. DeFazio’s important conservation and anti-crime legislation, Congress can now make sure the law has teeth—and the bird killers become jailbirds.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Talk Back: Wildlife Abuse, Fur and Turtle Safety

Today I’d like to share some of your responses to past blog posts. I recently wrote about the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which would ban the remote shooting of live animals over the Internet and the trophy shooting of exotic mammals held captive inside fenced enclosures:

I am sickened to read that people actually consider it a sport to shoot and kill an animal that is held captive in a pen. How could a person take pleasure and pride in killing something they were too lazy to chase? I'm also shocked at the cowardice and cruelty of those who use remote-controlled weapons for sport. This is just not acceptable.—Leigh

The polar bear was recently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. But Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has introduced a pair of bills that would undermine this listing and allow for the importation of sport-hunted polar trophies from Canada:

What are the names of the bills introduced by Congressman Don Young, regarding allowing polar bear trophy hunters to bring bear parts into the US? All HSLF members need to know so we can contact our own Congress reps.—Susan

Thanks for writing, Susan. It's important for legislators to hear from constituents who want to make a difference for animals. I encourage all readers to contact their U.S. Representative to urge opposition to these bills.

The Lake Jackson Ecopassage, a community-based project in Florida, would help turtles and other animals cross a busy and deadly stretch of U.S. Highway 27 in Tallahassee:

It's a nice change to see someone actually report the facts. Why does the media keep parroting Coburn's misinformation? Finally, we have someone who accurately reports about the project. Kudos to you - let's hope the rest of the media will actually do some leg work and report what the project is really about. After all, there's a reason the ecopassage has 13 million supporters. It's a great project! Read more by going to the project's web site.—Bob

We've also received feedback in response to yesterday's posting on the approval of the fur labeling bill in New Jersey:

Great news. I live in NJ and noticed this practice is flagrant. I brought the false advertising to the attention of the salesperson when I was shopping at Chicos. She was very reasonable and agreed to pass along my complaint.—Georgette

Thank you all for submitting these comments, and please keep the feedback coming. If you have a question or comment and would like to join the conversation, please send me an email. Thanks for all you do for animals.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Down Fur the Count

The New Jersey state legislature last week gave final approval to a bill requiring the labeling of all animal fur garments, making it the fifth state—after Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin—to better protect consumers from fraudulent fur selling. It’s a major step forward for policymaking on the fur issue, after leading retailers and designers were exposed for advertising “faux” fur-trimmed jackets that actually contained real animal fur, even dog fur imported from China. We are grateful to New Jersey state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) and Assemblymember Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) for carrying this important reform through to passage, and we hope Governor Jon Corzine will quickly sign it into law.

Red fox credit Eric Begin/CreativeCommonsSearch
New Jersey is poised to become the fifth state to pass
legislation on fur labeling.

It’s not only in the public policy arena, but also in the marketplace, where we are seeing major progress on the fur issue. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 3.5 million animal fur garments and accessories were sold in 2005, and today that number has dropped to just more than 1 million annually—a dramatic decline of more than 70 percent. The struggling economy has had an impact, for sure, on an industry that is peddling an unnecessary luxury product. But it’s much more than that, and also reflects a broader shift in consumer attitudes and corporate behavior.

Since 2005, a number of major retailers and designers—like BCBG Max Azria, Calvin Klein, Ed Hardy, Foot Locker, JCPenney, Kenneth Cole,, and Tommy Hilfiger—have stopped selling animal fur after discussions with HSUS. Others like Andrew Marc, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Rocawear, and Sean John have pledged to stop using raccoon dog fur, curbing the cruel killing of a wild dog species whose faces are remarkably raccoon-like. And still others like Burlington Coat Factory have dramatically reduced the amount of fur they sell, removing up to 80 percent of fur garments from their stores.

No label on garment with animal fur
The label on this garment lists nothing about the animal fur (visible on the left) trimming the hood.

These corporate policy reforms have taken a great deal of fur off the market. JCPenney alone had imported more than 1.1 million fur items over the past decade, so the reduction by each individual company is quite significant. There are so many warm and fashionable alternatives to animal fur, and consumers who are increasingly seeking out those options can shop with greater confidence when retailers and designers adopt strong fur-free policies.

The marketplace is moving in the right direction, but until the day that all fur is faux, we need to ensure that consumers know what they’re getting and have the opportunity to make informed purchasing decisions. It’s time for the U.S. Congress to pass the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, S. 1076 by Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and H.R. 2480 by Representatives Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.). Please watch this video and then ask your federal lawmakers to support the Truth in Fur Labeling Act—fur might be more scarce, but we need a national policy that sets an accurate and consistent labeling standard for all the animal fur garments still found on the racks.

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