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Wildlife

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Justice for Cecil and the other victims of trophy hunting

It’s been four years since an American trophy hunter and his guide lured an African lion named Cecil out of his protected home in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and killed him. The appalling circumstances of Cecil’s death sparked worldwide outrage, and drew attention to a shocking truth about the responsibility of American citizens and the United States government for such tragic slaughter. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the United States is the world’s largest importer not only of wildlife trophies in general, but also of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. imports 70 percent of global trophy exports of internationally protected threatened and/or endangered species. And all the while, the U.S. based Safari Club International and other trophy hunting interest groups have pushed to expand their range of options for killing and importation of these imperiled species, and to insinuate themselves into the deliberations of federal agencies responsible for America’s global wildlife policies and initiatives.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Today, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the U.S. House of Representatives produced a glimmer of hope that there actually is a branch of government willing and ready to restrict and even to eliminate our nation’s encouragement and abetting of the senseless slaughter of wildlife through a lax import policy concerning trophy parts. The committee held a hearing on H.R. 2245, the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act of 2019—the CECIL Act—which would substantially restrict the import and export of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. I extend sincere appreciation to House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and his colleagues for introducing the CECIL Act and to Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman, D-Calif. for holding this important hearing. The bill makes sense, and it would go a long way toward stopping the flow of blood and trophies.

Iris Ho, Humane Society International Senior Wildlife Programs and Policy Specialist, testified at the hearing highlighting the true nature of the trophy hunting industry. At its heart, it is one that encourages the killing of rare animals, ignores science, tramples on conservation, disregards wildlife laws, and fuels corruption and wildlife trafficking. During her testimony Ms. Ho noted that “there is irrefutable scientific evidence that trophy hunting has contributed to substantial declines in lion and leopard populations across Africa that have put these species in danger of extinction. Deliberate removals of animals by trophy hunters have cascading effects by disrupting social cohesion and population stability.”

Trophy hunting is a moral outrage on its own terms, but it also adversely impacts communities in the range nations of the targeted species. Local economies will pay the price if key wildlife disappears. Wildlife watching tourism—like photographic safaris—contribute significantly more sustainable revenue and jobs than trophy hunting. Trophy hunting contributes only 0.03% of the annual GDP of eight African countries surveyed in 2017, supporting only 7,500 job, whereas wildlife watching tourism contributes significantly more by supporting 24 million jobs and generating $48 billion for the economy. By killing majestic animals for a one-time fee, trophy hunting cripples current and future tourism industries and harms opportunities of much greater economic potential for local communities in range state nations.   

There’s an even bigger point to consider. Iconic wildlife like African lions and elephants belong to the world and not to the elite few who see them merely as trophies to mount on their walls. We owe it to Cecil and the thousands of other animals like him who have died at the hands of trophy hunters to do our very best to protect them. Moreover, we owe it to ourselves. We have the power to reshape our nation’s policies and conduct when it comes to reckless and ecologically disastrous trophy hunting, and we should use it. Please take a moment to call your U.S Representative at 202- 224-3121 and ask them to  cosponsor H.R 2245, the CECIL Act.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our animal protection agenda wins big in House Appropriations funding package

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There’s a reason why the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States invest substantial time and effort in seeking to shape funding decisions within the U.S. Congress; it pays off big for animal protection. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted 227-194 to pass a large package of fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills to fund several federal departments, including Agriculture, Interior and Commerce. H.R. 3055 features a number of great provisions for animals. Some of the most important include:

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photo by iStock.com

Halting trophy imports—Prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from issuing permits to import elephant or lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia or Tanzania (an amendment offered by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., approved by 239-192 vote).

Saving North Atlantic right whales—Provides $2.5 million for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research and monitoring of these critically endangered whales (a floor amendment by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., that increased funding by $1.5 million was approved by voice vote; a harmful amendment by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine was defeated by 84-345 vote).

Enhancing wildlife trade detection—Encourages USFWS to allocate an additional $200,000 for its Wildlife Detector Dog Program, which uses dogs to sniff out illegal wildlife products at key U.S. ports of entry, curbing wildlife trafficking (an amendment by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., was approved by voice vote). 

Restoring purged USDA data—Directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act; documents must be promptly posted in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations (Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., incorporated this and several other pro-animal items on this list in his base bill).

Providing shelter for people and pets fleeing domestic violence—Allocates $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals; directs USDA and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to work together quickly to establish and carry out this grant program (Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., led efforts to secure these provisions).

Stopping horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing the reopening of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. for FY20.

Punishing horse soring—Provides $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related show breeds.

Curbing cruelty in swine slaughter—Suspends USDA’s swine slaughter rule that allows slaughterhouses to send pigs down the line as rapidly as possible, with serious negative implications for animal welfare, food safety and worker safety (an amendment by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and David Price, D-N.C., was approved in committee).

Shutting down Class B dealers—Renews the prohibition on USDA’s use of funds to license Class B dealers, notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through fraudulent means, including pet theft, for research and testing (Rep. Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this measure).

Requiring AWA inspections documentation—Calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), to reverse concealment tactics that the agency has promoted during the past few years.

Engaging the USDA Inspector General—Presses this important office to step up efforts against animal fighting and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

Supporting veterinary care and services—Boosts funding by $1 million (to $9 million total) for student loan repayment program for veterinarians who commit to practice in underserved areas. 

A number of key provisions on which we reported earlier for wild horses and burros, wolves, marine mammals, other wildlife and alternatives to animal testing are also contained in today’s House-approved package. So are measures calling for greater oversight of animal welfare and transparency at  Agricultural Research Service labs, strengthened HMSA enforcement for live animal handling at slaughterhouses and funds for USDA to help state and local governments address the needs of people with pets in their disaster planning.

By any standard, this has been a banner year so far in our work shepherding strong animal welfare initiatives through the federal budgeting process. We are so grateful to the legislators who led the charge on these provisions and to their colleagues who voted for the package. And we’re grateful to the many engaged advocates who have stood strong behind us in our efforts. Now we’ll urge the Senate to follow suit and get these provisions enacted! 

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, May 22, 2019

Spending bills move up in Congress, with progress for wild horses and burros, wolves and other wildlife

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As the U.S. Congress takes up the business of funding federal programs, some good news for animals has emerged. Today, the House 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—all federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include groundbreaking new protections for wild horses and burros, support for gray wolves, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

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 $6 million for a pilot project to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The language for increased funding for a non-lethal pilot program included in the FY20 report is for scientifically based fertility control tools, which do not include sterilization. Consistent with a strategy proposed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States and several other organizations, this initiative directs the BLM to work with key stakeholders to implement a non-lethal, science-based approach to wild horse and burro management on two to three herd management areas. This 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, 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. Notably, this legislation includes first-time language to close a loophole that could have allowed the U.S. Forest Service to kill healthy wild horses and burros and/or to send them to slaughter; the bill also reinstates a similar prohibition with respect to the BLM.

Maintaining ESA protections for gray wolves: Time and time again, when federal protections are removed for wolves, states allow their resident wolves to be trophy hunted and trapped, causing their populations to plummet. This is one of the main concerns with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed rule to remove ESA protections for gray wolves. The bill that covers the Interior Department directs the agency to carefully analyze state management plans to ensure adequate protections will be in place before it removes a species from the ESA list, and then establish a stringent monitoring system with rigorous enforcement provisions. The bill also rejects cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, which provides grants for livestock producers willing to undertake non-lethal activities to reduce the miniscule risk of livestock losses from wolves.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and southern resident killer whale. It proposes at least $4 million for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance grant program, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. 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 $37 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $49 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 almost $4 million from its FY 2019 level and by $9 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill covering the Interior Department proposes $40 million more in funding above the president’s request for the EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program and Endocrine Disruptor Program, which develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

We are excited about shepherding these proposals forward in Congress, and we look forward to your continued support for these and other animal protection measures in weeks to come.

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, May 15, 2019

An American trophy hunter wants to bring home an endangered cheetah he killed in Namibia

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The cheetah, an animal capable of top speeds of 75 miles per hour, is racing toward extinction, with just 7,100 animals left in the wild. Recently, in another expression of the callous disregard trophy hunters show for the world’s most endangered and at-risk animals, an American who killed a cheetah in Namibia, has applied to import trophy parts from his kill into the United States.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

If approved, it would be the first time on record that the U.S. government would have authorized the import of a cheetah trophy under the ESA. This could set a terrible precedent and very possibly encourage more trophy hunters to go after cheetahs, exacerbating their tragic fate.

We recently learned that another American has also applied to import the trophy of a black rhino, also killed in Namibia. There are now just 5,500 black rhinos remaining in the wild.

It defies understanding that our government would even allow trophy hunters to apply for permits to import animals fast disappearing from earth and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Both black rhinos and cheetahs are listed as endangered under ESA and can only be imported if the FWS finds that hunting the animal would enhance the survival of the species. A trophy hunter killing an animal for thrills and bragging rights clearly does not meet that standard.

Sadly, in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, instead of doing its job of protecting animals listed under the ESA, has enabled an escalation of attacks against them. Beginning in 2017, the FWS reversed more enlightened policies, making it easier for American trophy hunters to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. The agency also established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stocked with trophy hunters and firearms dealers, tasked to advise on federal wildlife policy decisions—a decision we’ve challenged in court. And last year, the FWS proposed changes to weaken the ESA, which is the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Those harmful changes could be finalized any day now.

Late last year, despite our objections, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service granted an import permit to an American hunter who paid $400,000 to kill a 35-year-old male black rhino in Namibia in 2017.

Scientists warn that at the rate black rhinos and cheetahs are disappearing, they could be lost forever. Like rhinos, cheetahs face a number of threats, including massive habitat loss and degradation. These distinctive, spotted animals, known as the fastest land mammals, have already lost 91% of their historic range and 77% of their remaining habitat is not in protected areas, leaving them open to attack. Cheetahs also become victims of retaliation killings by humans due to conflict with livestock and game farmers, and trafficking of live cheetahs for the illegal pet trade. The last thing they need is to be shot for fun by a trophy hunter.

For trophy hunters, the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy is, and the greater the prestige and thrill of killing it. But most Americans know better and oppose trophy hunting, as we've seen from the backlash against trophy hunters that usually follows when they post their conquests on social media. With so few cheetahs and black rhinos left in the world, every animal counts. Please join us and urge the FWS to do the right thing by rejecting these two applications.

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, May 08, 2019

Urgent alert! Act now to prevent trophy hunting of gray wolves

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Time is running out for America’s gray wolves. The opportunity to weigh in on a proposed federal rule that would prematurely strip Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves in the lower 48 states ends soon, and it is important that you comment by tomorrow. These animals are still in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution, and delisting them could have disastrous consequences for their future and for the well-being of the ecosystems in which they live.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

The rule has no basis in science, as 100 scientists and scholars attested yesterday in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. In strong opposition to the rule, the scientists pointed out that the Endangered Species Act requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range before it is delisted—a goal that has not been achieved yet for wolves.

In reality, this rule is simply a handout from the Department of the Interior to trophy hunters, trappers and the agribusiness lobby—the latest in more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA that we have seen in recent years. Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies, under pressure from trophy hunting interests, have been pursuing this wolf-delisting agenda for decades, and have been spreading irrational fears and myths about wolves that have no basis in reality.

In a recent report, HSUS researchers debunked U.S. Department of Agriculture data on livestock killed by wolves that state and federal lawmakers have advanced to justify opening up a season on wolves. When our researchers compared livestock losses data released by state agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they found that the USDA data was highly exaggerated and that wolves accounted for less than 1% of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live.

We can say for certain that if wolves lose their federal protections, these highly sentient, family-oriented animals will face an onslaught of cruelty, including death by trapping, poisoning, baiting, and hounding. Consider their plight in Wyoming and Idaho, where they are already hunted. Wyoming considers 83% of the state a “predator zone” where trophy hunters and trappers can employ the most unspeakably cruel methods to kill or capture wolves with zero restraint. In Idaho, wildlife officials permitted trophy hunters, trappers, and predator control agents to eradicate its population from nearly 1,000 wolves to 150. Idaho even allows hunters to kill multiple wolves, including at the den in springtime when whole families are vulnerable.

In the Great Lakes region, wolves will face all of those perils and more, because Wisconsin will resume a drastic and unscientific wolf population reduction program and Michigan will open a hunting and trapping season that was soundly rejected by the state’s own voters in the 2014 general election.

Most Americans do not support trophy hunting wolves, and some states have also taken a stand against delisting. Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz came out with a strong statement that he supports legislation banning the hunting of wolves and the California Fish and Game Commission recently voted to oppose it. We’ve seen an outpouring of opposition to the proposed rule in recent public hearings in Colorado, California and Oregon.

The wolves need your support too, and they need you to act fast. Please comment at the link below before close of business tomorrow, May 9, and let the Department of the Interior know you oppose this cruel delisting.

Protect gray wolves now!

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, April 04, 2019

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act moves up in Congress; New film exposes cruelty and corruption in global trade

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee with a near-unanimous voice vote this week, with American lawmakers leaving no doubt of how they view the nefarious global trade in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and dump them back in the waters to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

While our federal law bans shark finning in American waters, the United States is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in other countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would decisively put an end to such U.S. participation, while reinforcing our country's leadership in ending the global trade in shark fins.

A companion bill in the House is also moving ahead. Sponsored by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, it was heard in the House Water, Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee last week.

To meet a demand for shark fin soup, fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded throughout the world every year. This commerce is unsustainable—some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that up to one-quarter of shark and ray species are at risk of extinction.

So far, 13 U.S. states, including Hawaii and Texas, have passed laws banning the trade, and more states are considering bans this year. Humane Society International is working to end shark finning globally, through education and legislation in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. HSI/Canada is working to advance a federal bill that prohibits the sale of shark fins within Canadian borders. The bill already passed the Canadian Senate with strong support and awaits a House of Commons vote.

Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, and Canadian conservationist, photographer, author, and filmmaker Rob Stewart has worked to bring attention to this cruel practice through his films and advocacy. Tragically, Rob passed away two years ago in a diving accident, but his parents, Brian and Sandy Stewart (with the rest of the Sharkwater team) recently released a powerful film, Sharkwater Extinction, documenting Rob’s efforts to expose the illicit shark fin industry. The film follows him to various countries as he uncovers the corruption intertwined with shark finning.

Through striking cinematography and gripping scenes, Sharkwater Extinction aptly captures the plight of sharks and drives home why we need to end this cruel trade. The film is being released on Amazon on Earth Day, April 22, and as our efforts to pass the ban on the shark fin trade continue on the Hill and in statehouses across the country, we will bring it to lawmakers’ attention.

We hope you will watch it too, and call your Members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks need our help now, more than ever. This keystone animal plays a vital role in protecting marine ecosystems and conserving wildlife and habitat in the oceans. We need sharks swimming free in the wild, not in a bowl of soup.

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 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.

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 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.

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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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