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February 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

House Panel to Vote on Constrictor Snakes

The House Judiciary Committee tomorrow is scheduled to vote on H.R. 511, a bill introduced by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., to add nine species of large constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act. This important bipartisan legislation would ban the import or interstate trade for use as pets of the Indian python (including Burmese python), reticulated python, Northern African python, Southern African python, boa constrictor, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, DeSchauensee's anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The bill addresses the trade in nine species identified in a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing “high” or “medium” risk of becoming established in the wild in the United States as invasive species, and potentially threatening native wildlife and costing the government millions of dollars to address.

PythonIn March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to ban these nine species of large constrictor snakes identified by the USGS report as posing significant risk. In January 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a final rule restricting trade in just four of the nine species—a helpful step, but one covering just 30 percent of imports of the nine species posing a significant risk to the environment. By including only some species, the trade will simply shift to the other species—including boa constrictors and reticulated pythons which represent two-thirds of the trade, and boa constrictors identified as posing “high” risk—and the threats to public safety, animal welfare, and the environment will continue uninterrupted. That’s the principle reason Congress needs to take action and enact H.R. 511.

While the administration’s rule addressed four of the nine species, the USGS report noted that all nine species present ecological risk, concluding the following (emphasis added): "High-risk species are Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors, and yellow anacondas. High-risk species, if established in this country, put larger portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce. Medium-risk species were reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. These species constitute lesser threats in these areas, but still are potentially serious threats. Because all nine species share characteristics associated with greater risks, none was found to be low-risk."

The ecological havoc wrought by invasive snakes is worse than anyone anticipated. A January 2012 report by researchers with the National Academy of Sciences found that Burmese pythons, in a little more than a decade of colonizing the Everglades, have wiped out 99 percent of raccoons, opossums, and other small and medium-sized mammals, and 87 percent of bobcats. A great American ecosystem has been put at grave risk because of this invasive species. By having such an impact, it will inevitably harm the ability of Florida panthers, one of the most endangered animals in our nation, to survive. We must act now in order to prevent large constricting snakes from colonizing other ecosystems and having such a devastating impact on them, too.

It’s not only biologically reckless, but fiscally reckless, too. The U.S. Department of Interior expected to spend $100 million in 2011 controlling invasive species, including the pythons breeding wild in Florida. We must prevent these problems from developing in the first place, and not spend taxpayer dollars to clean up problems we should have anticipated. It’s fiscally reckless to allow these impacts to continue.

Additionally, the threats to public safety, and to the welfare of the snakes themselves in the trade, call for a comprehensive response. Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children, with reticulated pythons accounting for the largest share of attacks. The tragic death of a Florida toddler in 2009 put a fine point on why the private ownership of these animals is just not worth the risk of children or adults being killed by them. Passage of this legislation would spare thousands of animals the suffering and neglect of the exotic animal trade. These animals die during collection, transport, trade, and in private ownership. Many people who acquire them know little about proper care or housing for these animals.

The reptile trade opposed listing any of these species as injurious under the Lacey Act. We’ve seen the effect of their obstructionism, and it can be found in the depopulation of native wildlife from the Everglades, which our nation has invested billions of dollars to protect. The economic impact analysis by the reptile industry is wildly exaggerated and false, and these are the very people who have created the problem and have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The House Judiciary Committee, and the full Congress, should act favorably on H.R. 511 and adopt this science-based and fiscally responsible policy for conservation, animal welfare, and public safety.

If you live in one of the districts of the House Judiciary Committee members, please be sure to call them today and ask them to support H.R. 511:

Sandy Adams, R-Fla., 24th District (202) 225-2706
Mark Amodei, R-Nev., 2nd District (202) 225-6155
Howard Berman, D-Calif., 28th District (202) 225-4695
Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, 1st District (202) 225-2216
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, 3rd District (202) 225-7751
Judy Chu, D-Calif., 32nd District (202) 225-5464
Howard Coble, R-N.C., 6th District (202) 225-3065
Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., 9th District (202) 225-3265
John Conyers Jr. (Ranking Member), D-Mich., 14th District (202) 225-5126
Ted Deutch, D-Fla., 19th District (202) 225-3001
J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., 4th District (202) 225-6365
Trent Franks, R-Ariz., 2nd District (202) 225-4576
Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., 24th District (202) 225-5811
Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, 1st District (202) 225-3035
Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., 6th District (202) 225-5431
Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., 4th District (202) 225-6030
Tim Griffin, R-Ark., 2nd District (202) 225-2506
Darrell Issa, R-Calif., 49th District (202) 225-3906
Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, 18th District (202) 225-3816
Hank Johnson, D-Ga., 4th District (202) 225-1605
Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 4th District (202) 225-2676
Steve King, R-Iowa, 5th District (202) 225-4426
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., 16th District (202) 225-3072
Dan Lungren, R-Calif., 3rd District (202) 225-5716
Tom Marino, R-Pa., 10th District (202) 225-3731
Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., 8th District (202) 225-5635
Mike Pence, R-Ind., 6th District (202) 225-3021
Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico (202) 225-2615
Ted Poe, R-Texas, 2nd District (202) 225-6565
Jared Polis, D-Colo., 2nd District (202) 225-2161
Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., 3rd District (202) 225-3361
Mike Quigley, D-Ill., 5th District (202) 225-4061
Dennis Ross, R-Fla., 12th District (202) 225-1252
Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., 39th District (202) 225-6676
Bobby Scott, D-Va., 3rd District (202) 225-8351
Jim Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., 5th District (202) 225-5101
Lamar Smith (Chairman), R-Texas, 21st District (202) 225-4236
Maxine Waters, D-Calif., 35th District (202) 225-2201
Mel Watt, D-N.C., 12th District (202) 225-1510

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Pet Snared in Cruel Federal Trap

It’s rare for a family pet to survive a close encounter with one of the deadly predator control devices set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve shared several heart-breaking stories about dogs like Bea, a young American Brittany spaniel, who, in May 2008 suffered a terrifying, excruciating death during a hiking trip on public land in Utah, when she sniffed and licked a sheep carcass that had been laced with highly toxic Compound 1080 poison. And just this past December, I told you about a border collie in Oregon named Maggie who was strangled after being caught in a body-gripping kill trap set by Wildlife Services just 20 feet from her family’s property line. Bea, Maggie and countless other animals have suffered and died as a result of this agency’s outdated approach to solving wildlife conflicts and its indiscriminate killing and maiming of non-target species.

Bella narrowly survived an encounter with a snare.
Photo: Robert Norie

Fortunately for a beautiful husky named Bella and her owner, forester Robert Norie, her encounter with a snare set by federal agents did not end in death. She survived the ordeal, but as you will read, Bella still paid a horrible price when she came across these landmines of the natural world largely financed by our tax dollars.

In August 2010, while accompanying her owner on a trip to conduct a tree survey in Boise National Forest in Idaho, Bella wandered into a snare set for wolves by Wildlife Services and nearly died after struggling in the trap for more than eight hours. When Norie found her, Bella’s whole body was hopelessly tangled in the wire snare. She was caked with blood and had almost completely chewed off her right hind leg in a futile attempt to free herself from the cable. Norie and his coworkers managed to release Bella from the snare, and despite being in a remote area, Norie was able to get Bella to a veterinarian in time to save her life, but not her leg. Norie also suffered blood poisoning and had to spend four days in the hospital for treatment from a bite inflicted by an injured and terrified Bella while he was working to cut the cable away from her body.

While Bella survived the ordeal thanks to the heroic efforts of her devoted family, others like her are much less fortunate—left to languish in these traps for days, if not weeks, before finally succumbing to their injuries, dehydration, starvation or exposure.

Apparently, such is the case at Oregon State University where we have just learned that for several years now, Wildlife Services has been using the same types of cruel, indiscriminate snares that maimed Bella to injure and kill animals who wander into them near the school’s sheep farm. According to eyewitness reports from a family whose property lies adjacent to the sheep farm, deer fawns, raccoons and coyotes are routinely captured and left to suffer for days, if not weeks, in snares set by Wildlife Services along the farm’s fence line. The property owner says that one day she found a dead coyote who “had completely wrapped itself in and out of the wire fence in a struggle to get free. The other hind foot was missing entirely. I later learned that undoubtedly this coyote had formerly been caught in another trapping device and had chewed its foot off in order to escape.” On another day, she found “a live raccoon dangling on the fence, caught by the rear leg in the same type of snare trap as the coyote. This raccoon had similarly woven itself through the fence, trying to escape the snare's unyielding grip. I took video and photos of the struggling raccoon that had haplessly gotten caught in a snare set to catch another animal.”

Please send a polite message to Edward Ray, the president of OSU, asking him to suspend Wildlife Services' indiscriminate and inhumane trapping practices at the school, along with its contract, until an independent and public review is completed.

This tragedy is compounded by archaic state regulations that allow trappers as many as 30 days to check traps set for certain types of traps, similar to the one that nearly suffocated and killed Kiera, a Wheaten terrier, just 10 days ago while walking along the Metolius River in Oregon. It’s high time the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopt new rules to prevent animals from languishing interminably in these cruel and barbaric devices.

The federal program, too, is in need of reform. Wildlife Services has been killing animals for more than 80 years, using inhumane and indiscriminate methods, catching endangered species and family pets in the crossfire, with taxpayers footing a large share of the bill. It’s time for our government to do better, and find a new way forward.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Canine Craziness in Idaho

Good ideas, and bad ideas, often originate in state legislatures. Last year I singled out a Utah bill to allow the killing of any animal thought to be feral—with bludgeoning, shooting, and decapitation—as raising the bar for legislative lunacy. Fortunately that misguided proposal was sent to the legislative litter box, and Utah lawmakers instead passed a forward-thinking bill to sanction trap-neuter-return (TNR) policies for feral cats.

DogThis year’s prize for the pooper scooper of all state bills goes to Idaho state Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, a Republican sheep rancher from Terreton, who has taken anti-wolf hysteria in the West to a whole new level: Siddoway introduced a bill last week to allow the use of domestic dogs as live bait to lure and kill wolves. His legislation would allow hunters to tether man’s best friend out in the woods, using the dogs’ cries for help to draw in wolves to be shot and killed when they attack the hapless pets.

Historically, the wolf is no stranger to this type of ruthless and relentless persecution. They were eradicated from much of their range in the lower 48 by the use of bounties, poisons, and traps. They were shot from the air by marksmen in planes and helicopters. Cubs were smoked out of their dens and clubbed with shovels when they emerged. This cruel, gruesome war did not end until nearly every last wolf was killed.

Now that the species has begun to recover, the Obama administration has stripped them of federal protections, and turned over wolf management to the states with retrograde policies determined by anti-wolf politicians. Under pressure from the sport hunting and livestock industries, Idaho’s wildlife agency has already allowed the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and aerial gunning, in addition guns and bows, to increase the number of wolves killed.  Some in Idaho have even called for a resumption of wolf bounties, as though the frontier mentality of “the only good wolf is a dead wolf” has returned in full force.

WolfBut to make domestic dogs the victims of Idaho’s war on wolves is beyond reprehensible. While ranchers in Idaho surely support the right of livestock owners to protect their herds and flocks, we hope they would join us in finding the prospect of household pets—or for that matter, any domestic animal—being staked out in the woods to serve as live bait an unacceptably cruel practice.

Rather than searching for ever-more grisly means of killing wolves, Idaho’s principal goal should be the resolution of conflicts between livestock producers and predators. Such efforts should focus primarily on providing ranchers with technical guidance and assistance on ways to protect livestock from predation through the implementation of a wide range of site-specific non-lethal techniques including the use of guard animals, fencing, shed-lambing, and closely-monitored calf and lambing seasons. When these methods fail to provide adequate relief, lethal control should be used as a last resort, and in a way that targets individual problem animals rather than entire populations.

And no matter what, don’t add to the body count by using domestic dogs—the descendants of wolves—as unwitting tools for the killing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

It's Time to Ban Horse Transport in Double-Decker Trucks

Proponents and opponents of horse slaughter don’t agree on much these days, but there’s one thing they have in common: There is consensus that transporting horses stacked on top of each other crammed into double-decker trailers is unsafe and inhumane. The double-deckers are designed to haul smaller animals such as cows, pigs, and sheep. Horses are taller and often slip and fall because they can’t raise or lower their heads for balance. They are often unable to get up and are all-too-frequently trampled to death. They slip on steep and narrow metal ramps, placing them at risk of serious injuries. There have been grisly accidents leaving trucks overturned and horses suffering in fields of blood and broken bones on our roads and highways.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on horse slaughter recommended banning double-decker trucks, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has finalized a rule prohibiting their use in transport to any point, intermediate or final, en route to a horse slaughter plant. Logically, if it’s an unsafe vehicle for driving a truckload of horses to slaughter, then it’s an unsafe vehicle for driving a truckload of horses elsewhere, too. Double-deckers simply can’t be tall enough, no matter how they’re designed, to provide adequate space for horses and still meet highway clearance rules. Bipartisan legislation in Congress would codify the ban on double-deckers and apply it to the interstate transport of any equines. It’s championed by U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and U.S. Representatives Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Andy Harris, R-Md., and supported by a wide range of groups including The Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

HorseAs the House and Senate work to reauthorize major legislation dealing with highway transportation, committees in both chambers have included language banning horse transport in double-deckers. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, with the leadership of Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., approved the double-decker provision in December as part of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act of 2011, and last week it was passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with strong support from Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Ranking Member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

With bipartisan support from both chambers, and the backing of a diverse coalition of stakeholders, you’d think the ban on double-deckers would be a slam dunk. But that’s not the way Washington works. In the Senate, where any one member can send a sensible measure careening off the legislative highway, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who’s in charge of the $13 billion needed to fund the bill, has announced that he will block it. He says that the rodeo is big business in Montana, and the rodeo operators want to keep using double-deckers to transport horses—never mind the public safety hazards on our roads, the welfare of the horses, or the ability of the rodeo industry to continue operating simply with more secure modes of transporting the animals it relies on for its events and its economic success. It’s a race to the bottom and a least common denominator method of lawmaking, when one narrow interest can overturn an entire piece of legislation—like a double-decker truck overturned on the road.

When Senator Mark Kirk speaks in favor of the legislation, he refers to an accident he witnessed in Wadsworth, Ill., in 2007, when a double-decker tractor trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses crashed, mangling the trailer and killing 15 of the horses, overwhelming community responders and shutting down highway traffic for more than five hours. “Besides being an inhumane way to transport horses, double-deck trailers pose a major safety threat to the drivers of the imbalanced, oversized vehicles, as well as to other motorists,” Kirk said. “Unfortunately, crashes due to these factors have occurred, and the results of the accidents are devastating.”

This is the kind of common-sense sentiment that should prevail in the Senate—not the narrow-minded obstructionism and obstinacy that Senator Baucus is exhibiting here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

U.S. House Passes Bill to Protect Wild Horses

The U.S. House of Representatives late yesterday, by unanimous voice vote, passed H.R. 306, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. This legislation, strongly supported by HSLF and other animal protection groups, will ensure the protection, preservation and responsible management of a small herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Outer Banks of Currituck County, North Carolina.

Wild horsesThe majestic Corolla wild horses have been a historic and revered herd for nearly five hundred years, but currently the population is at risk of being reduced to only 60 horses. Experts agree that the herd must be managed at a healthy population level of 110 to 130 animals to maintain genetic viability. H.R. 306 wisely supports these science-based findings, without any cost to the federal government.

“The Corolla horses are a key part of North Carolina’s heritage. They’re also an important element of the Outer Banks economy,” said Rep. Jones. “North Carolina has designated the Colonial Spanish Mustang as our State Horse and we must make sure they survive for future generations to enjoy.”

The stable and successful wild horse program that the National Park Service has administered on Assateague Island using PZP contraception as its primary management tool shows that these populations can provide generations of Americans with inspiration and appreciation without requiring expensive and controversial removals.

We are grateful to Rep. Jones for his dedication and perseverance to protect these majestic wild horses on the Outer Banks. With so few wild horse herds left in the eastern United States, the Senate should quickly pass this important legislation.

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