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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Horse Slaughter, Wildlife Trafficking, Other Issues at Stake in Spending Bill

Congressional appropriators unveiled a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last night, to continue funding the federal government for fiscal year 2015 and avoid a shutdown when the current budget expires tomorrow. There was no shortage of animal issues at stake in the giant package, which resulted from tense negotiations with many policy concerns in play. If the House and Senate pass the omnibus bill this week, there will be a number of good outcomes for horses, elephants, and other creatures, but also some harmful provisions for animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter:The omnibus bill forbids spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on inspections at U.S. horse slaughter plants. The provision—which was approved by both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees as amendments offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.—maintains the ban on domestic horse slaughter for human consumption. Coupled with the news that the European Commission has suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico (where 87 percent of the horses killed for EU exports come from the United States) due to food safety concerns, there really is no rationale for not banning the horse slaughter trade.

A horse bound for slaughter.

Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory, inhumane enterprise. The horse slaughter industry doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: It buys up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting its intentions, and kills them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We don’t have dog and cat slaughter plants in the United States catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn’t have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either.

Ivory Trade: Fortunately, the omnibus bill jettisoned a reckless provision from the House Interior spending bill seeking to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any new attempt to limit the illicit trade in elephant ivory. The administration is expected to announce a proposed rule that would institute a near-complete ban on the commercial sale and import of elephant ivory in the U.S. This proposed national policy would build on the actions of the states to dry up the demand for ivory here in our country, arguably the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Transnational criminal syndicates and Africa-based terrorist groups are using the illegal wildlife trade to finance their nefarious operations. It’s shocking that some short-sighted politicians would jeopardize the fate of the largest land mammal in the world and undermine our own national security to interfere with the administration’s efforts to address this crisis—just so that someone gets an opportunity to sell ivory trinkets.

Wildlife Trafficking: In addition to not blocking efforts to crack down on elephant poaching, the omnibus bill also takes proactive steps to address the illegal wildlife trade. The bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns. It also prevents the U.S. from assisting certain countries and military groups if they have been found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

Conservation and Biodiversity: Other wildlife species also benefit under the provisions of the omnibus. The bill apportions funds for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, migratory bird protection, endangered species preservation, wildlife refuges, domestic wetlands, and international biodiversity conservation efforts. At a time when many wild creatures are being pushed to the brink by habitat loss and other pressures, these programs are critical to maintaining a healthy and vibrant planet for future generations.

Ruthanne Johnson/for The HSUS
The omnibus bill spells good news for burros.

Wild Horses and Burros: The omnibus bill prohibits the Bureau of Land Management from spending funds on the killing of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros, or on the agency’s sale of wild horses and burros to kill buyers. It also allows BLM to enter into multi-year contracts with private entities for the long-term care and maintenance of wild horses and burros. And finally, it allows the U.S. Forest Service to transfer funds to BLM to remove and adopt out wild horses and burros on national forest lands.

Importantly, the committees encourage the BLM to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management and to request funding for a pilot program in fiscal year 2016, in accordance with recommendations from the National Research Council (of the National Academy of Sciences) and others. The current wild horses and burro program is a fiscal and animal care disaster, with the BLM stuck on a treadmill spending millions of tax dollars essentially running captive horse shelters. It’s time for a better pathway, to keep the population numbers in check through fertility control on the range, as a more humane alternative to costly round-ups and long-term horse care.

Animal Welfare Funding: The omnibus bill allocates continued funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, federal animal fighting law, and programs to aid animals in disasters and address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and low-income areas—all at the same levels or slightly higher than fiscal year 2014. Over the past several years, Congress has recognized the need to boost funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and that funding has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are more than double the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, compared with inspector levels in the 1990s.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds.

Anti-Wildlife Measures: As with any major compromise package, there are harmful provisions, too. The bill blocks any agency expenditures to regulate the use of lead in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act or any other law, notwithstanding the devastating effects of lead on wildlife, people, and habitat from such exposures and the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives. This provision is especially troubling, and it’s something politicians have tried before in the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” as a hand-out to the extreme segments of the hunting lobby even though many responsible sportsmen already use non-lead ammo and it’s been required for all waterfowl hunting for more than two decades.

The package also increases funding for the USDA’s misnamed “Wildlife Services” program, which kills predators with traps, poisons, aerial gunning, and other cruel and indiscriminate methods (methods that kill many non-target animals including pets and endangered species) as a government subsidy to private livestock ranchers. The program is fraught with a lack of transparency and public accountability.

It also blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from taking action to list populations of the greater sage-grouse or Gunnison’s sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act—a disturbing pattern, as happened previously with de-listing of grey wolves, of Congress trumping scientific decision making on the conservation of threatened and endangered species with its political will.

But, on balance, there are more good than bad provisions for animal welfare included in the omnibus bill, and it would move the ball forward for horses, elephants, rhinos, and many other creatures.


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