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Wildlife

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.

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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bill in Congress would ban private ownership of tigers, lions, and other big cats

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Thousands of tigers, lions, leopards, and other big cats are kept in private homes and poorly run exhibits across the United States. These wild and dangerous animals are forced to spend their lives in inhumane conditions, locked up in small cages that are as far from their natural habitat as can be. And as we have seen time and again, they create a major safety hazard for citizens who live in their vicinity.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

Today, Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., reintroduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act in the U.S. House of Representatives to tackle this problem head-on. The bill, which has the support of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and other organizations, will ban the possession of big cat species like tigers and lions by individuals and poorly run animal exhibitions that allow public contact with big cats.

Earlier this month, another shocking reminder of the dangers associated with private ownership of big cats surfaced in Houston, Texas, where officials discovered a tiger living in a small, filthy, unlocked cage in an abandoned house. Since 1990, at least 375 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred. Twenty-four people have been killed, including four children, and dozens of others have lost limbs or suffered other often-traumatic injuries. In many cases when these animals escape their often-insufficiently secure caging, the animals are shot and killed, often by first responders not trained to deal with such situations. In a number of cases, people have even encountered abandoned tiger cubs wandering the streets.

America has a big cat crisis, and it is largely the consequence of a reckless and indifferent industry that breeds these animals for an activity known as cub-petting. At fairs and roadside zoos, for fees ranging from $10 to $500, members of the public can feed, play with, and take photos of themselves and others with baby tigers and lions.

The infant big cats often endure heartbreaking abuse, as documented by HSUS’s undercover investigations at two roadside zoos. To prepare the animals for public handling, the babies are torn from their mothers shortly after birth. This is traumatic for both the mother and the babies because normally, tiger and lion cubs stay with their mothers for about two years. The babies are deprived of proper nutrition and maternal care necessary for normal development and instead endure rough public handling and physical abuse from handlers to keep them under control, all while being deprived of sleep and regular feedings. They often suffer from parasites and other ailments.

When the cats grow too large for public handling in just a few months, they are discarded, usually by being warehoused at roadside zoos or pseudo-sanctuaries, or by being sold as pets, and new baby tigers, bred just for petting, are introduced. And so the cycle continues.

The tigers discarded from cub-petting may also feed the illegal market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine. With so many homeless tigers and no system to track them nationwide, the animals are often worth more dead than alive. Through Humane Society International, we’re trying to stem the tide of tiger trafficking and tiger farming. But as long as the United States continues to turn a blind eye to this problem on our own soil, we are hardly well-positioned to press other countries to confront these cruelties.

The HSUS knows something about what tigers and other big cats need, because they care for them at the Fund for Animals Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, along with hundreds of other animals. They're periodically invited to advise and support law enforcement agencies that are called upon to respond to the range of dangerous situations that arise with these animals in communities across the nation. Alexander, one of Black Beauty's tigers, was rescued along with about a dozen other dangerous wild animals, after their owner abandoned them, leaving them without food or water. His story had a happy ending, but sadly, the outcomes for most tigers owned as pets or by roadside zoos aren’t as positive.

No one needs to pet a tiger or a lion or keep one at home as a pet. It’s not a right or even a privilege that society owes to individuals. It’s a formula for disaster, danger, and fatal outcomes for both people and animals. We painfully recall the incident in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011, when the owner of a private menagerie released dozens of big cats before committing suicide, requiring law enforcement to hunt down the animals while risking their own lives. By taking dangerous animals out of the hands of unqualified people, the Big Cat Public Safety Act creates a common-sense solution for a problem that jeopardizes our citizens and creates the worst possible outcomes for the animals involved. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor this important bill and get it enacted soon.

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, February 14, 2019

A budget deal has been reached, and it's good news for animals

After months of negotiations, and the longest shutdown in United States history, a deal has emerged for funding to cover all the remaining federal agencies whose Fiscal Year 2019 budgets have been in limbo. While the package has been agreed to by key House and Senate negotiators, it still has to clear some hurdles. We are hopeful that this turning point shows that Congress stands united, and that President Trump will sign the bill into law. Although earlier appropriations bills in the House and Senate contained worrisome provisions and excluded important protections for animals, we are happy to report that the final version has resolved many of those problems.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with animal protection champions in both chambers and with other stakeholders to secure these key outcomes:

Maintaining the ban on horse slaughter: The bill prohibits government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been in place in almost every year’s budget since 2005, and was initially secured in the FY19 Senate version of the bill.

Protecting wild horses and burros: The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros. In addition, the bill leaves out harmful language contained in the House version of the bill to launch a program of mass surgical sterilization—a procedure which research has yet to prove can be conducted humanely. The conferees have requested that the BLM provide them with an updated humane management plan within 180 days, and that the agency include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request an outline of its proposed strategy and the funding necessary for implementation.

Preserving ESA protections for gray wolves: The bill omits an assault on gray wolves contained in the original House version of the bill. If enacted, it would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from wolves in the entire contiguous 48 states, and barred judicial review of those actions and of the 2012 removal from the ESA of gray wolves in Wyoming.

Allowing grizzly bear recovery: The bill excludes a provision contained in the House version which strove to block funding for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released an environmental impact statement in 2015 to launch the reintroduction process, which former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed in March 2018. Instead, the conferees have directed FWS and NPS to re-open the public comment period regarding the draft environmental impact statement with proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem—and to work with ranchers, conservation groups, local governments, and other local partners to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock, drawing upon lessons learned with the Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program to improve conservation outcomes while limiting effects to agricultural producers.

Oversight of farm animals used in research: In 2015, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Nebraska, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Congress responded forcefully with directives to USDA to begin inspecting these facilities for animal welfare compliance and providing quarterly reports to the Appropriations Committees.This bill includes harsh criticism of USDA’s progress reports, noting that “ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment.”

Animal testing alternatives: The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.2 million cut proposed by the President) for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Class B random source dealers: The bill contains the same language as in the past few years prohibiting the USDA from licensing Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities. Our colleagues at the Animal Welfare Institute have led this fight.

USDA data purge: Following bipartisan expressions of outrage, the House Committee Report (in a provision deemed adopted in the final package) directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and enforcement records for horse shows, puppy mills, roadside zoos, laboratories, and other facilities which were purged from the agency’s website in February 2017.

Providing needed funding: The bill provides a $500,000 increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and a $500,000 boost in a veterinary services grant program. It sustains funding for other key accounts including enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters, encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas, support the Marine Mammal Commission’s crucial work, and crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

The omnibus package is not perfect. For example, it renews a harmful provision that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle, which poisons and kills wildlife. But overall, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is very happy that Congress has taken a stand on so many important animal protection issues. We look forward to working with the 116th Congress to ensure these protections are maintained and to build on them with additional vital measures.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bill in Congress will require puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses to have emergency plans to protect animals during disasters

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Weather-related disasters such as floods and wildfires are occurring more frequently and with increasing intensity across the United States. While there is a federal law that requires state and local authorities to consider household pets and service animals in their disaster contingency plans, it doesn’t address hundreds of thousands of animals held in American businesses, institutions and enterprises, specifically those in puppy mills, research facilities, zoos, circuses and aquariums regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress today will remedy that by requiring all such enterprises to create emergency response plans for the animals in their care, so that they are not simply abandoned when disaster strikes.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

The Providing Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, H.R. 1042, is championed by Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Peter King, R-N.Y. It would require facilities that are regulated under the AWA to submit annual plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that identify emergency situations, including natural disasters, power outages and animal escapes, and outline specific tasks to respond to these emergencies. Plans need to include instructions for evacuating the animals, shelter-in-place, provision of backup food and water, sanitation, ventilation, bedding and veterinary care.

In 2001, more than 34,400 animals, including 78 monkeys, 35 dogs and 300 rabbits, died when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the University of Texas Medical Center. That facility, located along one of Houston’s largest bayous, housed more than half of its research animals underground. Sadly, the same mistake was repeated when New York University began construction on a research building one year later and located the animals in the basement; thousands of mice drowned there from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012.

In 2006, with our urging, Congress enacted the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, after an estimated 600,000 animals were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. Some people refused to evacuate and lost their lives because they couldn’t bear to abandon their pets. The PETS Act required state and local authorities to take into account—and to plan for—the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and after a disaster, but it did not cover commercially owned animals.

The PREPARED Act would do more than simply benefit animals. It would also reduce the burden on first responders, the local community and nongovernmental entities involved with rescue efforts after a disaster. For example, in 2008, the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus in Kansas ignored four days of severe tornado warnings by the National Weather Service to keep two elephants outside, giving rides to the public. When a tornado hit, equipment fell on one of the animals. A handler was thrown from an elephant and injured, and the traumatized animals bolted and were loose for hours.

The 2014 Farm Bill directed the USDA to create an exemption from the AWA for people with only a few non-dangerous animals, noting that this would enable the agency to swiftly adopt a requirement for emergency contingency plans by AWA-regulated facilities. That exemption was finalized in June last year, so there is no reason for further delay on requiring the emergency plans.

We know firsthand the difficulties of providing care for thousands of animals after a significant disaster. Each year, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team spends hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist with rescuing and caring for animals during hurricane season and in the aftermath of other catastrophes, natural and manmade. The four animal care centers, operated by our affiliates the Fund for Animals and the South Florida Wildlife Center, all have disaster plans in place. The PREPARED Act is a win-win for everyone: by creating contingency plans for the animals in their care, businesses can safeguard their investments, reassure the public and other stakeholders that they are protecting the animals in their care, and prevent catastrophic outcomes for dependent animals. Congress should enact this commonsense reform quickly.

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.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The state of the animal union under the Trump administration

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it’s a good time to take stock of how his administration has dealt with animal protection issues of interest to us at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

President Trump has expressed his personal distaste for trophy hunting—to his credit—but in the past two years, we have also seen aggressive moves by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undo years of work done by previous administrations to save wildlife at risk of extinction globally and in Alaska. Moreover, the government has made blatant handouts to trophy hunters. The animal protection field has also had to grapple with a U.S. Department of Agriculture blackout of important information that groups like ours and the American public rely upon to ensure animals are not suffering.

On balance, it would be fair to say that the impact of federal agencies over the past two years on animal protection has been more negative than positive. Some of the areas where we saw the Trump administration fail include:

  • The blackout of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, making it harder for Americans to learn which puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research facilities, among other enterprises, are failing to comply with animal protection laws. The USDA has also cut back drastically on the number of warnings, official complaints, and license revocations it applies to the worst puppy mills and other Animal Welfare Act violators.
  • Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke illegally established the “International Wildlife Conservation Council,” an advisory panel stacked with people who have an interest in killing or importing rare and endangered animals from overseas. The administration also lifted the import ban on Zimbabwe elephant and lion trophies.
  • Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act, creating additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, and to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
  • The Department of the Interior proposed rolling back an Obama-era regulation that banned some of the worst and most appalling hunting practices on 20 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska, including using artificial light to kill hibernating bears and their cubs, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers in their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou, and using dogs to hunt black bears. This, just after Congress revoked similar protections on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in 2017.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Justice committed funds for legal fights in the federal courts to make this administration action permanent.

We did see the Trump administration take some positive steps to help animals, including:

  • The National Park Service began work to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, wolf population by introducing 20 to 30 wolves over a three-year period. New wolves will restore ecological balance to Isle Royale’s ecosystem.
  • The Food and Drug Administration pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the agency’s animal research programs, establishing a new Animal Welfare Council, and reaffirming its commitment to replacing, reducing, and refining animal studies by creating a road map with this focus.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment, although the area is smaller than many advocates had sought.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of non-animal test methods.

We are also grateful that the USDA decided to abandon a proposal to outsource some inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos and research laboratories to third-party inspectors. If implemented, the proposal would have essentially allowed these industries to police themselves and severely undermined protections for millions of animals.

As we look forward to 2019, we encourage the Trump administration to take necessary steps to prioritize transparency and to advance key animal welfare reforms, such as:

  • A proposed USDA rule to tighten licensing requirements for dog dealers and exhibitors, as well as strengthen requirements for dog dealers to provide basic care requirements.
  • A significant increase in the use of population growth suppression tools to manage wild horse and burro populations on our public rangelands. The Department of the Interior must also abandon past proposals to send wild horses and burros to slaughter.
  • Mitigating the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including taking measures to reduce deadly entanglements in lobster gear and other trap/pot fisheries gear, and to reduce the risk of vessel strikes by imposing mandatory ship speed limits in additional areas of seasonal high use along the east coast.
  • Prioritizing the relocation of chimpanzees currently owned and supported by the federal government to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. The National Institutes of Health should also prioritize approaches to replacing animals in harmful research that not only represent the best available science, but could also prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.

Congress recently demonstrated that animal protection is a bipartisan value, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to introduce bills to attack horse soring, horse slaughter, shark finning, and malicious animal cruelty. We hope that in the coming year, we will see more of an effort by the administration to work for, and not against, animals. Animal protection is an American value and most of us—Republicans and Democrats—do not want to see innocent creatures hurt or killed needlessly.

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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Did your Members of Congress make the grade? The 2018 congressional year in review for animals

The final 2018 Humane Scorecard is now online, and we invite you to check it out and see how your federal legislators stood on a range of key issues last year. Please also share this scorecard with family, friends, and fellow advocates and help spread the word!

Capitol
iStock Photo

To recap, the 115th Congress second session had its share of frustrating setbacks, but the FY18 omnibus appropriations deal signed into law in March and the farm bill enacted in December contained some spectacular wins for animal protection. Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2018:

Farm bill
Some of our biggest victories in this massive, multi-year package were defensive plays:

  • Most importantly, we blocked a terrible amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatened to gut countless state and local laws on animal protection, food safety, and other agriculture-related concerns.
  • We also successfully countered amendments to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirement for annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at animal research laboratories and amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

We secured three key pro-animal measures in the final package:

  • The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities arrange shelter for survivors with pets.
  • The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act clarifies that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including territories where cockfighting is still openly practiced.
  • The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide.

Appropriations
The FY18 omnibus spending bill enacted in March contained many pro-animal items:

  • Equines: Renewed “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Restated prohibition on sending wild horses or burros to slaughter for human consumption.
  • Wildlife: Struck riders that would have eliminated ESA protections (and barred judicial review) for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eliminated rider allowing extreme methods of hunting on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
  • Animal welfare enforcement: Following requests by 184 representatives and 38 senators, provided a $2 million increase for AWA enforcement, added $1.5 million to a student loan repayment program that helps veterinarians work in underserved areas, and sustained funding in other animal welfare accounts. Also criticized the USDA for thwarting access to AWA and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and directed the agency to comply with earlier requirements “that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws.”
  • Research and testing: Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop replacements for animal tests and increased funding by $36 million for a National Institutes of Health program that helps transition science to non-animal test methods. Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of chimpanzees in research facilities and to expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system. Maintained prohibition on USDA licensing of “random source” dealers, who are notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means (including pet theft), keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
  • Wounded warriors: Doubled funding (a $5 million increase) for Department of Defense grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional trauma, and boosted by $1 million a Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans with mental health issues.

Some pro-animal FY19 budget provisions were enacted:

  • Provided a $105.4 million increase for the NIH program developing non-animal alternatives to animal tests.
  • Maintained $10 million for the Defense Department program that awards grants for therapy dogs, and increased by $500,000 the Veterans Affairs equine therapy program.

Other priorities in the FY19 budget await final resolution:

  • The horse slaughter defund provision is in the Senate bill but not the House bill.
  • Both the House and Senate bills include the prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses and burros for human consumption, but the House version also directs immediate initiation of a surgical sterilization program despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively.
  • The House bill contains terrible riders to undo ESA protections for gray wolves and block the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington State.

Additional victories

  • While the USDA budget isn’t finalized, the FY19 funding request letters (signed by a record 190 representatives and 38 senators) helped drive needed action: In May, the agency abandoned its proposal to outsource animal welfare oversight and give regulated industries (puppy mills, roadside zoos, research laboratories, etc.) the power to decide which facilities warrant federal inspections.
  • In September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end the cruel dog and cat meat trade. (House resolutions don’t require Senate approval or presidential signature, so this measure is completed.)
  • The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was signed into law in October as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Introduced after a French bulldog died when an attendant insisted on stowing him in an overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits storage of live animals in airplane overhead compartments and authorizes civil penalties.
  • Several measures saw action in one chamber during the 115th Congress, setting the stage for future success. They included the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to prohibit sales of shark fins and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act to prohibit acts of extreme cruelty in interstate or foreign commerce. The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), which aims to end widespread doping of race horses, had a House hearing in June (with testimony by the Humane Society of the United States), and in September the House approved the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act (H.R. 6197) to crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

Setbacks
We did encounter some serious setbacks. Legislation to bring urgently needed changes to agriculture checkoff programs—so their funds are no longer misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms—failed in the Senate. A farm bill amendment to end the cruelty of horse “soring” was blocked from House floor consideration. Numerous animal protection bills, detailed in the 2018 Humane Scorecard, garnered hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors but stalled because House and Senate leadership refused to call them up for a vote.

Looking ahead
The new Congress presents exciting opportunities to move reintroduced bills that are ripe for swift action. We hope to see significantly fewer anti-animal measures brought to the House floor, although we’ll likely need to respond to additional regulatory rollbacks against wildlife and other animals and to press for stronger agency enforcement and accountability. We’re eager to work on new priorities as well, such as disaster planning for animals at regulated facilities, as we face increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.

For all this and more, we’ll be counting on your continued help. You have been the key to our successes in 2018, and if you keep speaking out for the animals, we can accomplish even greater progress in the 116th Congress!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bipartisan bills introduced in Congress to ban shark fin trade in U.S., end malicious cruelty to animals

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The 116th Congress began work today on rooting out some of the worst forms of animal cruelty in the world, with House members reintroducing two important bipartisan bills. One would ban malicious acts of animal cruelty and bestiality, and the other would prohibit the destructive trade in shark fins within our borders.

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AwaylGl, iStock.com

These are issues most Americans can agree on, and both bills are long-running priorities for our Humane Society Legislative Fund staff. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, would make the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—felony crimes under federal law. And the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, would ban the shark fin trade across the United States, strengthening the moral claims of our nation as a leader on ending the worldwide trade in shark fins.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies and in 2010, we helped pass a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in so-called “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers. But there’s a gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal prosecutors unless an obscene video has been produced. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the PACT Act twice before, and it earned 284 bipartisan House cosponsors and over 200 law enforcement endorsements in the 115th Congress. The only reason this legislation has not passed the full House in past years is because it was repeatedly blocked from coming to the floor by former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who is no longer in Congress. With a new Judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chances that the bill will finally become law this year are much brighter.

"This is commonsense, bipartisan legislation to bring some compassion to our animal laws," said Congressman Deutch. "For many Americans, animal welfare is an important policy issue, and the idea of animal abuse is abhorrent. By building on state and local laws, Congress should act to guarantee a level of protection for animals across the country by criminalizing these inhumane acts. We've acted in the past to stop the horrific trend of animal abuse videos; now it's time to make the underlying acts of cruelty a crime as well."

"The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Buchanan said. "Protecting animals from cruelty is a top priority for me and I look forward to working with Congressman Deutch on this important issue."

"The PACT Act is crucial to the fight against animal cruelty. Combined with the recent passage of the PAWS Act and the FBI’s inclusion of animal cruelty within its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), this recent uptick in federal-level action in fighting animal cruelty in all its forms is indicative of the acceptance of the seriousness of animal cruelty. Research has repeatedly confirmed the link between animal cruelty and human violence, and the PACT Act will address some of the most egregious forms of cruelty," said Chelsea Rider, Director of the National Sheriff Association's National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act will prohibit the import, export, possession, trade, and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. If it passes, it would reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation, strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning, and take our nation out of the destructive global shark fin trade once and for all.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Although most of the demand for shark fins is in Asia, the United States is an active participant in the trade. Government records show that in 2017 we imported shark products worth more than $1.6 million, with the majority of that value coming from fins. The United States also is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Shark finning is an extremely cruel practice: fishermen slice the fins off the sharks and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. To meet the 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.

“The strong, bipartisan support for this legislation sends a clear message that we have to pay more attention to protecting the Earth’s oceans and the life within those oceans. Banning the sale of shark fins to help end this wasteful and cruel practice is important, but just a small step on the way to giving the oceans the full respect they must have in federal law. Ultimately, all life on Earth depends on the health of the oceans,” said Congressman Sablan.

“I am proud to help introduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which builds upon existing federal law and state initiatives to ban the sale, purchase, or possession of shark fins in the United States. As the largest economy in the world, how we conduct our commerce has a profound impact on global markets and greatly influences others’ economic behavior. It is long since time we leverage our economic might against shark-finning and work to counter the larger issue of animal poaching and the illicit trafficking of animal parts,” said Congressman McCaul.

We are excited to see these bills move through Congress and finally pass into law this year, but we cannot do it without you. Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. There is no place for animal cruelty in a civilized society, and it is time our laws catch up with the times.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Steve King, down for the count?

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval concerning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for recent remarks in which he questioned the offensiveness of white supremacy and white nationalism. Yesterday, the House Republican Steering Committee unanimously voted to exclude Steve King from any positions on House committees in the new 116th Congress, kicking him off the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Small Business Committees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also issued a statement condemning King’s words.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

King’s comments to the New York Times are only the latest signals of his affinity for white nationalism. In 2017, King tweeted that America can’t restore “our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last year, King defended his meeting with  a far-right Austrian political party with ties to Nazism, while on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group, and retweeted a post from British author and self-professed Nazi sympathizer Mark Collett.

Stripped of his committee assignments, King’s effectiveness as a lawmaker will further shrink. Nowhere will this be more apparent than on the House Agriculture Committee where—attempting to shape policy for an industry central to his home state’s economy—King has launched many of his attacks against animal protection over the years.

These multiple condemnations directly threaten King’s political future. Last week, Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra announced his intention to challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary, and Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, stated that she will not support King in the race. King might not even make it to that election: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) are among the Republicans who have already called for his resignation.  

The hatefulness implicit in King’s commentary concerning white nationalism spills over into his visceral opposition to animal protection. He has consistently made himself an outlier by fighting animal protection proposals of all kinds in Congress.

A prime example is King’s opposition to restricting animal fighting. Last May, King voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill, which sought to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51 and was enacted in December. In 2007, he voted against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Prohibition Act, which strengthened penalties for illegal animal fighting and made it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. In 2013, King tried unsuccessfully to block legislation that made it a crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight.

King is also responsible for one of the worst threats to animal protection and most egregious power grabs in U.S. history. Thankfully, Congress rejected twice—in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills—the King amendment that threatened to nullify countless state and local laws regarding animals and a range of other concerns including food safety and the environment.  

As if this weren’t enough, King also has a history of voting against wildlife and equines. He has repeatedly voted to promote the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in foreign countries even though 80 percent of the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. He’s voted for legislation that undermines the Endangered Species Act, removing critical protections for some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including grizzly bears and wolves. He also voted to restore extremely cruel and scientifically unjustified methods of trophy hunting on National Park and National Refuge lands in Alaska.

King’s great hostility toward our cause may stem from the same core lack of empathy and ethics that prompt him to embrace a racist ideology that has so bedeviled this nation throughout its history. For that and other reasons, we wholeheartedly applaud the Congress for its resounding rebuke of King’s bigotry and malice.

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