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March 2019

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Breaking: Chilling video shows poachers slaughtering hibernating black bear mother, cubs in Alaska

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Today, we are releasing chilling footage of Andrew and Owen Renner’s now infamous—and illegal—black bear trophy hunt in Alaska last April, so you can see what grisly fate awaits the state’s native carnivores if the U.S. government goes ahead with a proposal to roll back protections for these animals on federal lands. Unless we halt that plan, tens of thousands of animals will face the same grim fate as the three bears killed by the Renners.

The video starts out with the father-son duo on skis spotting a mother bear hibernating in a tree hollow on Esther Island, in Prince William Sound. It's apparent from the audio that the bear is aware of the impending danger and makes sounds that indicate her fear. The two pull out their guns and fire several shots into the hollow, killing the bear even as the shrieks of her baby cubs fill the air. The father, Andrew Renner, then shoots the two cubs at point blank range. Next, the men pull the bear’s limp body out of the den. They pause for a victorious and bloody high-five, and a photo with the son holding up the bear’s paw, before proceeding to carve the bear into pieces. Then they roll up the bear skin, stuff it into a plastic bag, and leave with the bloody remains of what was, just hours before, a beautiful animal hibernating in her den with her cubs.

Unknown to the Renners, their depravity was captured by an on-site camera put up as part of a study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service.

The video also shows that the men returned to the site a couple of days later to hide all evidence of their crime, stuffing the bear cubs’ bodies into a bag, disposing of a tracking collar placed on the mother bear as part of the study, and retrieving their spent bullet casings.

The explosive footage of the Renners’ misdeeds—obtained by the Humane Society of the United States under a public records request—offers a preview of what could happen to Alaska’s bears—and other wildlife—if a rule that allows cruel methods of hunting black bears and other carnivores on National Preserve lands in Alaska goes into effect. The rule seeks to roll back existing protections that prohibit hunting on national preserve lands using cruel methods, like taking black bears, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites, shooting brown bears over bait, taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season, shooting swimming caribou, shooting caribou from motorboats under power, shooting black bears over bait, and using dogs to hunt black bears.

The Renner case serves as a disturbing reminder of how closely the current administration has aligned itself with trophy hunters. Over the past two years, we have seen a consistent rollback of protections for Alaska’s wildlife, despite the poll data suggesting that most Alaskans—not to mention the rest of us—do not want their wildlife placed within the sights of trophy hunters. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule prohibiting similar types of hunting methods on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, but Congress and the president overturned the rule in February 2017. In 2015, the FWS issued a rule prohibiting these types of hunting methods in the Kenai National Wildlife refuge, but the agency is now planning to introduce a proposed rule that would repeal those protections, too.

For his crime, Andrew Renner received a five-month prison sentence. Both he and his son had their hunting licenses temporarily suspended, and had to forfeit personal property. But the only reason they were held accountable is because they committed their poaching act in an area where it was not permitted. This slaughter would have been perfectly legal had it happened on some other designated federal lands in Alaska, including National Wildlife Refuges. And if the proposed federal rule goes into effect, more of Alaska’s federal lands will become fair game for trophy hunters like the Renners.

The comment period on the federal rule has now closed, but the final rule has not yet been issued. It’s still not too late and we are asking that you sign our petition to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to leave previous protections in place. Let him know that you’re opposed to expanding this shameful and cruel activity to more federal lands. Alaska’s National Preserves belong to all Americans, and we need more protections on these lands for the extraordinary species who inhabit them.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Breaking news: USDA proposes rule to crack down on worst puppy mills and roadside zoos; require strengthened veterinary care for dogs

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today proposed a new rule to close a loophole in the law that allows puppy breeders and roadside zoo exhibitors, whose licenses have been revoked for severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations, to continue doing business as usual by relicensing under a family member’s name. The rule also proposes enhanced veterinary care for animals held by dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities, including annual hands-on veterinary exams and vaccinations for all dogs, and other commonsense measures like requiring that all dogs and cats have regular access to fresh, clean water.

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Photo by Shutterstock

The rule will also require businesses to disclose any animal cruelty convictions before they can obtain a license, and it will prevent those which keep exotic animals as pets from obtaining an exhibitor license to skirt local laws that restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals.

We’re pleased to see that the rule mirrors several (though not all) of the improvements we requested in a 2015 petition to the agency to improve standards of care for dogs, and in legal comments we submitted in 2018 regarding the licensing scheme. Under the new rule, licensees will also be required to renew their licenses every three years instead of every year. While we prefer annual renewal, the current process does not require licensees to show compliance with AWA rules before renewal. If the new rule goes into effect, breeders and other licensees will now have to pass an inspection before they can obtain a new license.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have long pressed for such reforms because of concerns about the manner in which the USDA has been regulating puppy mills and other AWA licensees. For instance, USDA citations, warnings and fines have plummeted dramatically over the last two years. We strongly urge that the USDA accurately and diligently document violations; otherwise, a rule change that prevents noncompliant dealers from renewing their licenses will be pointless.

Our review of the USDA’s recent inspection reports also shows that inspectors rarely ever cite dealers for “critical” or “direct” violations anymore—even when they find bleeding, injured or emaciated animals on the property. When violations are not correctly cited, there is no follow-up. USDA must provide follow-up to address suffering animals.

The proposed rule is similar to the bipartisan Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, introduced in the House earlier this year by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Let the USDA know you support measures that will require professional, hands-on veterinary care for dogs, that you support preventing problem pet breeders and other kinds of animal dealers and exhibitors with poor animal care histories from getting a new license, and that you support firm and diligent enforcement of the AWA.

This rule has the potential to improve the lives of tens of thousands of animals now languishing in the squalor of puppy mills and roadside zoos. We can do great good for them by seeing this rule over the finish line together.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Breaking news: U.S. reinstates safeguards to prevent wild horse and burro slaughter

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a major victory for our campaign to protect wild horses and burros, the United States this week reinstated important safeguards that will prevent unscrupulous kill buyers from purchasing large numbers of these iconic American animals and funneling them to slaughter abroad.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com


The Bureau of Land Management, the agency tasked with managing the nation’s wild horse and burro population, said it is returning to a 2014 policy that allows individuals and organizations to buy only four wild horses over a six-month period. That policy was put in place after investigations revealed a notorious kill buyer had bought nearly 1,800 wild horses from BLM and sent them across the border to Mexico to be slaughtered.

Last year, the Trump administration scrapped the 2014 policy and put in place a new sales policy that allowed 25 horses to be purchased at a time, with no time limit between the purchases. This created an extremely dangerous situation for the animals, where any buyer, including kill buyers, could purchase 25 horses one day, then go back the next day and buy 25 more horses, and so on. It was precisely this sort of exploitation that the 2014 policy had sought to end.

We are grateful that BLM recognized the pitfalls of this new policy and has acted to change course. Humanely managing wild horse and burro populations and ending horse slaughter are key issues for us here at the HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and we are working to resolve them on many fronts. The HSUS has been pushing for BLM to greatly expand their use of population growth suppression tools, which have been used to help manage wild horse and burro herds across the country, including in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Utah.

Our HSLF staff has been working for many years with allies on the Hill to retain language in the appropriations bill that prevents the destruction of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros or their sale to slaughter, and language that keeps horse slaughter plants from reopening in the United States.

This year, we worked with members of Congress on the reintroduction of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R 961. This important bill, introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., will end the transport of wild and domestic American horses, burros and other equines abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would ensure that horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil remain shuttered.

The slaughter of America’s horses is not an issue that should even be up for debate. Please contact your U.S. representative today and ask them to support the SAFE Act. Our horses and burros are a national treasure, and they deserve better than to endure the horrors of transport across the border and a cruel death so they can become food on someone’s plate overseas.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Horseracing Integrity Act will crack down on drugging, protect racehorses

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In recent years, major professional sports have taken crucial steps to rid themselves of illegal doping in order to create a more level playing field and to protect athletes from the adverse effects of performance-enhancing drugs. But there has been no such respite for equine athletes in the horse racing industry, where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

Today, U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R.1754, a federal bill that will better protect America’s racehorses by replacing outdated state-by-state drug and medication rules with one national standard, ban race-day medication and increase out-of-competition testing. The bill has the support of a number of racing industry leaders and animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, The Jockey Club, and the New York Racing Association. The HSUS testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection in support of this bill when it was introduced in the last Congress.

It is no secret that we have a drug crisis in the horse racing industry, one that has led to the premature deaths of thousands of horses over the years. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard, and it’s been a boon for unethical trainers who can move from state to state to avoid penalties while continuing to dope racehorses.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for the equine athletes and for their riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death. Overuse and abuse of drugs administered too close to a race can also mask lameness in horses during pre-race exams—a problem veterinarians and other racing officials have expressed concerns about—endangering both the horse and the rider during a race.

Too many American racehorses are currently also administered race-day drugs to enhance their performance, a practice banned by nearly all other countries. If a horse needs drugs in order to race, that horse should not be on the track.

Support for reform is quickly growing throughout the racing industry as stakeholders recognize the importance and need for clean competition in horse racing. The operators of Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Racetrack, and the Stronach Group which owns several tracks, including Pimlico Race Course, which is home to the Preakness and Keeneland, all support the Horseracing Integrity Act, as does the Water Hay Oats Alliance and members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

This bill is a gamechanger for equine athletes. It is a pro-animal, pro-industry measure that will not only help restore fairness to the sport but it will also protect racehorses from the winning-at-all-costs mentality embraced by cheaters. When the bill was introduced in the last Congress it had 132 cosponsors, and we are working to ensure it will cross the finish line this time. Please contact your U.S. representative and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R.1754.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Efforts in Congress to help save critically endangered right whales

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

North Atlantic right whales, once decimated by whalers, have continued to face an onslaught of other threats to their survival in recent decades, including entanglement in commercial fishing gear, collision with large ships, and climate change. These gentle giants, who swim in the waters off the U.S. and Canadian east coast, are among the most critically endangered large mammals on earth and their numbers continue to drop at an alarming rate. This week, Congress is turning a spotlight on these beleaguered creatures in an attempt to save them from further decline and possible extinction.

Right-whale
Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission

Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., yesterday introduced the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which authorizes $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years. In addition, the House Natural Resources subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife will hold a hearing this morning on threats facing the species and how to address them.

These are promising steps that offer hope of our yet turning the tide for right whales, who need help fast. Fewer than 440 North Atlantic right whales remain on earth, and only 100 are females of reproductive age. In the past five years, as the numbers of the whales have declined, so has their birth rate. In recent years, more right whales have died than have been born. No calves were born during the 2017-18 winter birthing season and so far this birthing season, only seven newborns have been seen—well below the expected number.

Right whales were so named because in the past, they were a favorite target for whalers: they followed the coastline, moved slowly, floated when they were dead, and so were considered the “right” whale to kill. The threats they face today are different, but perhaps even more devastating. Right whales feed in the cool northern waters off New England and Canada in the summer and travel to and from the waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth in the winter. Their seasonal migrations take them through some of the most industrialized stretches of ocean in the world, as well as through a number of busy shipping lanes and port entrances. Right whales frequently get entangled in heavy fishing lines, such as those used in lobster gear, and often drown immediately. Some break free but stay wrapped in heavy line that cuts into their bodies with each stroke of their powerful tail flukes. Entangled whales can’t feed efficiently, they don’t reproduce, and their body condition declines. In 2017, entanglement in commercial fishing gear and vessel collisions resulted in an unprecedented 17 right whale deaths.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have worked for many years to raise awareness of the plight of right whales and to do something about it. In 2013, as the result of a legal petition filed by the HSUS, the United States mandated that large ships slow down while passing through key right whale habitats. This resulted in reducing deaths from lethal ship strikes, which until recently was the leading cause of death for the species. We also successfully petitioned to expand their designated critical habitat protections in key feeding areas and in the Southeastern United States where female right whales birth their young. And over the last two decades, we have filed numerous lawsuits against the National Marine Fisheries Service, forcing the agency to improve its management of the species and mitigate threats to the survival of the population. This year, we partnered with other organizations to send a letter asking Congress to appropriate $5 million in Fiscal Year 2020 for research to help their survival.

The HSUS and Humane Society International joined last year with a coalition of wildlife and animal protection groups asking Canada  to restrict risk-prone fisheries during months when right whales are in the Gulf of Ste. Lawrence in greatest numbers in order to prevent their fatal entanglement in fishing gear.

Researchers are working with fishermen to develop innovative technologies that can reduce the risk of fatally entangling whales while still maintaining profitable commercial fisheries and jobs in coastal communities; but more work and testing of new technologies are needed. By funding this sort of research, the SAVE Right Whales Act will increase the chances for long term survival of the species. It will help us better understand where, when, and how whales use habitats, particularly in coastal areas that may be challenged by additional human activities.

We applaud members of Congress for drawing attention to these imperiled animals through the hearing this week, and for promoting needed funding for recovery efforts that would be authorized by this bill. Right whales are running out of time. Please call your legislators and urge them to support this important bill and efforts to save a magnificent species from slipping further toward extinction.  And let’s redouble our other efforts to make the world truly safe for whales—all of them.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Breaking news: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes stripping federal protections for wolves

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will issue a proposed rule to strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in all of the lower 48 states, further jeopardizing animals in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution. The proposed rule, announced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, would especially affect wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon where they are now protected under the ESA.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

The delisting proposal comes just as we release reports confirming the relatively small impact that wolves (and grizzly bears and cougars) have on livestock—the reason usually cited by states and the federal government when announcing wolf delisting decisions. Our report also provides evidence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture using exaggerated data on the numbers of cattle and other farm animals killed by wolves. By comparing livestock losses data released by state agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, our researchers found that wolves accounted for less than one percent of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live. In fact, all predators combined take nine times fewer farm animals than illness, weather, and theft. 

In reality, this delisting rule is nothing more than a handout to trophy hunters, trappers, and the agribusiness lobby. Under pressure from these interests, Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies have pushed a wolf-delisting agenda for decades. In recent years, we have seen more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA, including bills in Congress.

The ESA mandates that delisting decisions be based solely on the best available science, but the Interior Department’s rush to delist gray wolves is not backed by any science at all. Wolf populations are still recovering in the states where they live, and they occupy only a fraction of their historic range.

We already know what happens when states allow wolves to be hunted. At present, in four states, wolves are not protected by the ESA. Of these, in Idaho and Montana alone, more than 3,200 wolves have been killed since 2011. In Wyoming, wolves can be killed without a license by just about any means at any time in more than 80 percent of the state. When protections for Great Lakes region wolves were lifted between 2011 and 2014, nearly 1,500 wolves, including many pups, were killed in unsporting ways, including with cable neck snares, steel-jawed leg-hold traps, packs of hounds, and with bait.

It was just last November when a trophy hunter killed Spitfire, a famous Yellowstone National Park wolf, in Montana as she stepped over an invisible line out of the park. In response, State Sen. Mike Phillips of Montana has introduced a bill to protect Yellowstone’s wolves, the most viewed and photographed in the world.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines to protect wolves. We’ve won a series of landmark legal cases to keep wolves protected under the ESA, and we have fended off Congressional attempts to reduce protections for these iconic American carnivores. We’ve even advanced and won state ballot initiatives to keep wolves out of the crosshairs and defended those victories in court.

In December, the HSUS and the Center for Biological Diversity proposed an alternative way forward to give wolves the protections they need, including reclassifying gray wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the ESA. Our proposed solution is based on the best available science and sound legal grounds, and we urge the FWS to accept it.

We cannot allow our government to hand over the fate of our most precious wildlife species to those few who seek to kill them under the guise of misplaced and exaggerated fear for livestock, or just to decorate dens and living rooms with their heads and hides, while depriving millions of Americans of the joy of seeing such animals in the wild. Let the FWS know that federal ESA protections should not be stripped from gray wolves across the contiguous United States. Time is running out for our wolves, and it is critical you speak out for them before it’s too late. 

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

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