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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Breaking news: Key Senate committee signals support for animals, like wild horses and whales, with spending bills

Today, the U.S. Congress once again provides good news for animals. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce—including federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include a commitment for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros featuring increased fertility control approaches, funding to protect critically endangered north Atlantic right whales, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

HORSES-WILD-ISTOCK-836461312_438049
Photo courtesy iStock.com

Similar to the bills passed by the House of Representatives, the 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.

Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:

New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $35 million to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The increased funding for a non-lethal program included in the FY 2020 report is for proven, safe, and humane fertility control tools and the onboarding of improved science as it becomes available, which does not include sterilization. The strategy, developed over years of negotiations with key stakeholders and proposed by the Humane Society Legislative, the Humane Society of the United States, and several other organizations, directs the BLM to work with key organizations to implement the program, which will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept and is an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe, and humane reversible fertility control tools—which do not include surgical sterilization—become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate is reinstating a prohibition on killing healthy wild horses and burros, including sending them to slaughter by the BLM.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, providing $3 million for research and conservation efforts for the species, $1 million of which is to be dedicated for a pilot program to develop, refine, and field test innovative fishing gear technologies designed to reduce North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $5 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $17 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by over $1 million from its FY 2019 level and by almost $7 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill also provides level funding for EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program, which develops replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. With the recent historic announcement by the EPA’s Administrator Wheeler calling for an end to animal testing, it is imperative that Congress increase funding for the agency’s Office of Research and Development including the Computational Toxicology Program.

These bills are a testament to the importance of animal protection issues within all agencies of our federal government. The fights are real and we must keep the government honest about its commitments to protecting and preserving species on land and in the sea. As these bills are taken up by the full Senate, we are committed to seeing that these vital funding provisions for animals are included.

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