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Monday, March 20, 2017

Why not “drain the swamp” of animal abuse?

President Trump’s preliminary budget proposes major cuts in programs related to foreign aid, poverty relief programs, and the environment, and the budget proposal eliminates entire programs supporting public broadcasting, the arts, and humanities. From our lane at HSLF, the one burning question is why there aren’t any cuts in factory farming subsidies, lethal predator control, and other giveaways of American tax dollars to coddled special interests?

Capitol
iStock Photo

If he was in the hunt for programs to cut, in order to save tax dollars and balance the budget, this government pork should have been first on the list. These programs have been long overdue for trimming and elimination, and we hope those specifics are part of the president’s full budget proposal expected in a few months.

Of course, the president’s first budget is a starting point, and needs to be negotiated and approved by Congress. As lawmakers work through the process and endeavor to downsize the government, we strongly urge them to look at areas that are ripe for cuts and savings:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program is an outdated and inefficient model of lethal predator control, essentially operating as a government subsidy for private ranchers, and wasting millions of dollars each year killing wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife with cruel methods such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and steel-jawed leghold traps. In some cases, the government spends more money than the losses attributed to these creatures. Even family pets and threatened and endangered species are killed with the indiscriminate, lethal methods employed by this wasteful federal program. A 14-year-old boy walking his dog in Idaho recently triggered an M-44 “cyanide bomb” set by Wildlife Services to kill coyotes, and the 3-year-old Lab, Casey, was killed by the toxic explosion. It’s not only a waste of tax dollars, but a threat to families everywhere.
  • The USDA can also stop the multi-million dollar subsidies for big pork and other factory farming interests, and let the free market take the place of government hand-outs. The government bail outs of factory farms (through purchasing of their surplus meat—often dumping the worst products on our nation’s school lunch program) are not only costly, but do nothing to encourage such operations to rein in their production or clean up their cruel, unhealthy, and environmentally damaging methods. USDA should rein in the National Pork Board, which is funneling check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. This $60 million boondoggle is essentially a slush fund for the National Pork Producers Council and its efforts to fight against animal welfare and family farmers. You could not find a stronger example of crony capitalism taking advantage of government benefits.
  • The Bureau of Land Management can save tens of millions of dollars by utilizing technologically advanced, humane alternatives to costly round-up and removal of wild horses on federal lands. Using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West instead of taking them off the land and putting them in long-term government holding facilities is not only more humane, but would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole.
  • Refocus government safety-testing efforts on high-tech, animal-free approaches. Each year federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to assess the safety of chemicals, drugs, and even natural plant extracts. Evaluating the cancer-causing potential of a single chemical in a conventional rodent test takes up to 5 years, 800 animals, and $4 million. For the same price and without any use of animals, as many as 350 chemicals could be tested in less than one week using ultra-fast robot-automated cellular toxicity and gene-expression tests. These sophisticated, animal-free methods are already used by some companies and federal agencies to determine testing needs and priorities, and are poised to be accelerated by the passage of the TSCA reform bill last year. Funding should focus on research and development of these methods, in order to stop spending on wasteful and inefficient animal tests.

Lawmakers should consider these proposals as part of their larger effort to wrestle with the country’s budget. Millions of animals would be spared needless suffering, the U.S. budget would be moved toward the black, and we would begin to “drain the swamp” of special interests that have been bilking the American taxpayers for all too long.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Federal law has big impact on animal fighting

The original federal law to curb some aspects of animal fighting (adopted in 1976) did not prompt a single prosecution for more than a quarter century, even though dogfighting and cockfighting went on in thousands of dark corners and even some brightly lit arenas every year in the U.S. That’s why HSLF went to work to strengthen the law and make it more viable and effective. We’ve upgraded the law four times in the last 15 years, the latest upgrade in 2014. I’m pleased to report on a clear example of the new, stronger framework—criminalizing the act of bringing a minor to a fight. This improvement to the law is making a difference in the real world:

Last month, a Virginia man was sentenced to two years in prison for taking a minor to cockfight in Kentucky. This is a direct result of the passage of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was strongly backed by The HSUS and HSLF and included as a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. 

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Heather Severt/The HSUS
Example of a cockfighting ring in
WV busted by The HSUS

The law made it a federal crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight, and a federal felony to bring a child to one. In prior years, we also convinced Congress to outlaw the sale of fighting birds, upgrade animal fighting to a felony offense, and ban the possession of fighting animals.

These upgraded federal laws are rooting out this despicable behavior. Last year, a cockfighting pit in Citronelle, Alabama, was shut down by federal authorities, after multiple undercover investigations conducted by the FBI and The HSUS. During the execution of the search warrant, authorities uncovered a huge arena with bleacher seating, concession stands, trophies, cockfighting paraphernalia, and rental holding spaces for participants’ birds with space for more than 1,000 animals.

Also last year, a federal investigation into suspected dogfighting operations led to the rescue of 66 dogs and the seizure of dogfighting paraphernalia at properties in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C. The case was led by the U.S. Department of Justice, with assistance from The HSUS, and nine individuals were charged as part of a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dogfighting.

The recent case, however, is especially noteworthy as the first time anyone has been prosecuted under the federal statute for bringing a child to a cockfight. (There have been previous prosecutions for attending dogfights.) And there’s more. The man sentenced for his role in cockfighting at the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club in McDowell, Kentucky, also pleaded guilty to distribution of hydrocodone. Of course we’ve known that animal fighting goes hand in hand with other crimes, and the adults who bring children to these spectacles expose them to drugs, violence, and bloodletting.

The children, of course, pay a high price for witnessing the cruelty of animal fighting first hand. Research shows that regularly being exposed to animal cruelty puts children at serious risk. When children become accustomed to the pain and suffering they witness, they become desensitized. Not only are they at risk of becoming animal fighters themselves, they are at risk of becoming involved in crimes against people.

Also, with the FBI now tracking animal cruelty crimes in the uniform crime reporting database, and organizations like the National Sheriffs Association speaking out forcefully against animal cruelty, we should see more enforcement of all animal fighting laws. The HSUS is also training thousands of law enforcement agents across the country on how to enforce laws against cockfighting and dogfighting. 

It was less than 20 years ago that cockfighting was still legal in five states. The HSUS and HSLF marched state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework on animal fighting. And because many of the dogfights and cockfights are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, we worked with our allies in Congress to fortify the federal statute as a complement to the state laws. We are now seeing the results of all that work paying off for animals and for communities around the country, and we are grateful to all the lawmakers who advocated for tougher laws to crack down on the scourge of animal fighting.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Maryland seeks to close the door on the trade of imperiled wild animal products

Following the worrying results of an investigation into the sale of wildlife products from imperiled species within its  borders, Maryland lawmakers are taking steps to make sure that their state no longer has a hand in this destructive trade.

Md-wildlife-investigation
photo courtesy of The HSUS
An example of an elephant ivory piece found for
sale at the Baltimore Antiques Show

The Humane Society of the United States today released the results of an investigation conducted late last year that uncovered products of imperiled species, notably elephant ivory jewelry and collectibles, for sale in stores and markets throughout Maryland. Investigators found that at least 30 sellers at antique stores and malls, auction companies, consignment stores, and jewelers across Maryland had elephant ivory items for sale. Leopard fur was also found for sale at a Frederick antique mall.

With only one exception, none of the sellers offering ivory or leopard fur would provide documentation to investigators to verify the age or origin of the products. That lack of documentation and transparency makes it impossible to know if the products were genuine antiques, for example, or from more recently killed elephants, imported in violation of the federal law on selling African elephant ivory.

The investigation also found that several sellers at a popular art and jewelry show in Baltimore had traveled from other states, including New York—where, thanks to 2014 legislation supported by HSLF, The HSUS, and other wildlife conservation and protection groups, the sale of ivory is now illegal.

When asked, many Maryland antique sellers claimed ignorance of existing laws regulating the sale of ivory, while others seemed to deliberately confuse or mislead potential customers.

In a survey conducted last year, an overwhelming 83 percent of Maryland residents said they support legislation to curtail this trafficking within their state’s borders, to help save the world’s most majestic and endangered wildlife from extinction and cruelty. With broad support, state legislators have introduced a package of bills, H.B. 686/S.B. 560, to prohibit the sale of these products in the state.

The poaching of imperiled species is a growing global crisis, and the U.S. is one of the world’s largest retail markets and  a major contributor to the $20 billion illegal wildlife trade. We must do all we can to stop poaching of wildlife in range countries, but we can also take action here at home to reduce the demand that creates global instability and pushes many iconic animals to the brink of extinction.

The actions by poachers are immensely cruel and even as they decimate the populations of these species, they threaten the economies of many nations dependent on wildlife tourism. Poachers hack off an elephant’s or rhino’s face, sometimes while the animal is still alive, to retrieve their tusks or horn. Every year approximately 35,000 elephants are killed in Africa to supply the demand for their ivory. The savanna elephant population has declined by 144,000, or 30 percent of the population, since 2007, primarily from poaching.

Other iconic animals aren’t faring any better. Cheetahs have lost an estimated 91 percent of their historic habitat and fewer than 7,100 remain in the wild. At least 1,305 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2015 out of only 29,000 remaining in the wild. All seven sea turtles species are threatened with extinction. There are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild. African lion populations have declined by 43 percent since 1993 and are still declining.

Evidence and seizure data suggest that poaching and wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime, after the trafficking of drugs and people, and counterfeiting. In the case of ivory, armed militia and terrorist groups on the African continent engage in elephant poaching and ivory trafficking to finance their nefarious operations. Many agencies, including INTERPOL and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, recognize the increasing involvement of organized syndicates in wildlife crime.

The federal government has an important role to play, and we made progress last year with the passage of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in Congress and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule to close loopholes in the domestic ivory trade. But states must also take action to help dry up demand for poached products within their own borders. There is strong and bipartisan support for these laws, as seen in huge ballot measure victories by HSLF and our coalition partners—winning 70 percent of the statewide votes in Washington in 2015 and Oregon in 2016 to ban the trade in wildlife parts.

The new legislation in Maryland would keep the products of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, sea turtles, and great apes off the market, ensuring that consumers do not unwittingly contribute to the illegal wildlife trade. Maryland can join California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington which have passed similar laws—building momentum in the fight to shut down local markets that allow so many to continue seeking profit from destructive wildlife trafficking.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Did your Member of Congress make the grade?

There’s a new Congress in town, but it includes many veteran members who are back at work on the Hill, too. We want you to know how those members performed on important animal protection issues in the last session, so you can either encourage them to keep up the good work or let them know you want them to do better for animals this time around. 

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hslf.org/scorecard

Animals need every voice they can get this year. And yours matters so much. That’s why today we’re publishing the final version of the 2016 Humane Scorecard, which focuses on action in the past year while providing some analysis of the full two years of the 114th Congress.

Think of the Humane Scorecard as a handy tool to see where your federal legislators stand on some of our movement’s key policy issues.

It demonstrates the level of support animal protection ideas hold in various regions of the country and with the two major political parties. It also helps us evaluate where we’ve been effective and where we need to focus our energies in the months and years ahead.

Most directly, this scorecard holds lawmakers accountable on key votes including, on the positive side, to reduce or eliminate the testing of tens of thousands of chemicals on animals, and on the negative side, to strip Endangered Species Act protections for wolves, allow the most extreme methods of trophy hunting and trapping, and prevent agencies from issuing or updating regulations that protect animals. We also evaluate their support for adequate funding to enforce key federal animal welfare laws and their cosponsorship of priority bills to protect pets, horses, animals in laboratory experiments, and more. We provide extra credit for legislators who took the lead on one or more animal protection issues.

We recognize the limitations of trying to judge legislators based on a few votes, cosponsorships, joint letters, and leadership on animal issues. No instrument of this type is ever going to be perfect. Legislators sometimes must miss votes for unavoidable reasons such as illness or a death in the family.

Advocates should also consider such unrecorded matters as performance on committees, positions of congressional leadership, cosponsorship of other animal protection bills we weren’t able to include in the scorecard, and constituent service. But our movement must strive for some objective yardstick to evaluate performance on our issues.

We hope the Humane Scorecard will be useful to you all year. If you’re a member of HSLF (I hope you are!), please enjoy the complimentary printed copy you’ll receive in the mail as one of your membership benefits. And please help to spread the word about the important things we are doing.

Here are some of the highlights from 2016:

  • A bipartisan group of 200 legislators—51 Senators and 149 Representatives covering 39 states and the Northern Mariana Islands, which is more than half of the Senate and more than one-third of the House—received leader credit and/or scored a perfect 100 percent.
  • The average Senate score was 48, with Senate Democrats averaging 86, Senate Republicans averaging 17, and Senate Independents averaging 64.
  • The average House score was 49, with House Democrats averaging 89 and House Republicans averaging 20. 
  • Thirty-one Senators scored 100 or 100+. 
  • Twenty-seven Senators scored zero.
  • One hundred and four Representatives scored 100 or 100+.
  • Seven Representatives scored zero.
  • The New England region led the pack with an average House score of 82 and an average Senate score of 92, followed by both the Mid-Atlantic region with an average House score of 73 and Senate score of 50 and the West with a House score of 70 and a Senate score of 83.
  • The Rocky Mountains and the Southeast were at the bottom, with average House scores of 43 and 32, respectively, and Senate averages of 26 and 21, respectively.
  • California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington had an average Senate score of 100.
  • In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, both Senators scored a 0.
  • Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont had a House average of 100, and Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York had House averages above 80.
  • No state had an average House score of zero, but Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming had average House scores in the single digits.

Special thanks goes to the following 11 Senators and 37 Representatives who took the pro-animal position on every scored item and earned extra credit for leading on one or more animal issues:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.)
  • Sen. Chris Coons (Del.)
  • Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.)
  • Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.)
  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.)
  • Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.)
  • Sen Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
  • Rep. Alma Adams (N.C.)
  • Rep. Don Beyer (Va.)
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.)
  • Rep. Judy Chu (Calif.)
  • Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.)
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.)
  • Rep. John Conyers (Mich.)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (Calif.)
  • Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn,)
  • Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.)
  • Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.)
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Sam Farr (Calif.)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.)
  • Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.)
  • Rep. Michael Honda (Calif.)
  • Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.)
  • Rep. Derek Kilmer (Wash.)
  • Rep. Brenda Lawrence (Mich.)
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.)
  • Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.)
  • Rep. Alan Lowenthal (Calif.)
  • Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.)
  • Rep, Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.)
  • Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.)
  • Rep. James McGovern (Mass.)
  • Rep. Grace Meng (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Bill Pascrell (N.J.)
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.)
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.)
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.)
  • Rep. Dina Titus (Nev.)
  • Rep. Niki Tsongas (Mass.)
  • Rep, Peter Welch (Vt.)

For all the details, please check out (and hold onto) the Humane Scorecard. Use it to talk to your lawmakers about their grades for last year. If they scored high, thank them for their support of animal protection. If they didn’t, let them know you’re watching and you hope they’ll try to do better in 2017.

And if your legislator wasn’t reelected, let the new folks in office know that you and other constituents care about treating animals humanely, that you want to see common-sense policies enacted to protect animals, and that you’ll be keeping them informed throughout the year so they can do well on the next Humane Scorecard right out of the gate. 

We need your help, and theirs, to advance a mainstream agenda for animal protection in the 115th Congress, taking on domestic violence against pets, doping of race horses and horse soring, animal testing for cosmetics, shark finning, the dangerous exotic pet trade and dog meat trade, and other cruelties.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Next Ag Secretary has a big role to play on animal welfare

The cabinet post with perhaps the most relevance for animal welfare within the incoming administration was one of the last to be filled—with former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue getting the nod from President-elect Donald Trump as the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture.

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a major role not only on agricultural policy, but also in the enforcement and implementation of key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act, which provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites (including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, roadside zoos, and circuses); the Horse Protection Act, which deals with cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses (deliberately injuring horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping, pain-based gait to win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; and the federal animal fighting law.

What do we have in the way of insights about Sonny Perdue’s record on animal welfare? As governor, he signed a law in 2008 strongly backed by The HSUS and HSLF to make dogfighting a felony and close loopholes on owning fighting dogs and being a dogfighting spectator. "I am pleased today to make it clear that dogfighting is an activity that we will not tolerate here in Georgia," said Perdue in signing the bill.

Perdue is a licensed veterinarian, who graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and a few years ago volunteered his time to perform a surgery at the Atlanta Humane Society to raise awareness for the spaying and neutering of pets and a special dog and cat license plate that supports Georgia’s statewide spay and neuter program. "I'm here today to help the Humane Society call attention to the serious problem we have in Georgia with the overpopulation of cats and dogs," said the then-governor. "We need to encourage pet owners to be responsible so that we don't have unwanted animals finding their way to shelters and having to be euthanized."

In 2010, Perdue also signed a bill banning the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter pets.

In recent weeks, a number of players within Big Ag have championed his appointment. As governor, Perdue signed a pro-agribusiness bill to preempt local ordinances related to agriculture, and similar effort could be advanced at the federal level to block states and local communities from having a say on agriculture policy. Certainly, we hope that Secretary Perdue will stand up for states’ rights and local decision-making authority.

Georgia is the top state for production of broiler chickens (those raised for meat) and is also home to the United Egg Producers. Perdue is undoubtedly familiar with these issues, and with the trends in these industries, including the fact that, increasingly, American consumers have higher expectations for animal welfare. Most of the major egg producers are transitioning toward cage-free production, and some of the biggest brand names in the world of chicken production—such as Perdue (no relation to the designee)—are moving toward slower-growing birds to prevent their immense suffering and implementing other reforms. The next Secretary of Agriculture can play a role in helping the marketplace transition to higher welfare practices. The ground has shifted on these issues not just among consumers, but even among so many producers. We hope that Governor Perdue sheds the old canards about agriculture and brings the balance that consumers expect and that so many food businesses have already committed to honor.

The incoming administration is reportedly working on plans to cut the size of government. If cost-cutters are looking to downsize the USDA, we have some suggestions: The agency’s Wildlife Services program is an outdated and inefficient model of lethal predator control, essentially operating as a government subsidy for private ranchers, and wasting millions of dollars each year killing wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife with cruel methods such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and steel-jawed leghold traps.

The USDA can also stop the multi-million dollar subsidies for big pork and other factory farm products, and let the free market take the place of government hand-outs. It can rein in the National Pork Board, which is funneling check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. The $60 million boondoggle has come under fire from conservative Sen. Jeff Flake, who writes, "In a very unusual deal, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is bringing home the bacon from a government sponsored board for the sale of the slogan ‘The Other White Meat,’ which was put out to pasture years ago." Flake notes that the "deal guarantees payments to a lobbying organization over two decades" for a slogan that is no longer even being used. You could not find a stronger example of crony capitalism taking advantage of government benefits.

In recent years, the USDA has been responsible for progress on a number of animal welfare issues, including banning the slaughter of downer cows and veal calves who can’t stand up or walk on their own, strengthening enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to crack down on illegal soring, setting animal welfare standards for the organics industry, strengthening the care of captive marine mammals, and working to address problems with puppy mills, Class B dealers, and tiger cub petting operations. We urge the incoming Secretary of Agriculture to continue the progress on these issues and make animal welfare a priority for the agency. If he wants to "drain the swamp," he’ll have to resist the polarizers and the provocateurs who want to fight old battles, settled already in so many states and even in the business community.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Animal protection rules could be chopped by regulation ax

In the first days of the 115th Congress, lawmakers are poised to take up the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act, which both have the potential to undermine Presidential authority and set the stage for the elimination of popular and bipartisan rules, taking an ax to a circumstance that requires far more precision and a more merits-based analysis on rules. This potentially includes a profound impact on rules that implement animal protection laws and improve enforcement of them.

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Photo courtesy of The HSUS

The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21, would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow en bloc disapproval of multiple regulations finalized during the last year of a President’s term. Such action would prevent due consideration of the merits of individual regulations. For animal protection rules adopted during the Obama Administration, including in the final year of his term, most have been many years in the making, have elicited overwhelming numbers of favorable public comments, and have enjoyed strong, bipartisan congressional support.

For example, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators wrote to USDA in support of the anti-horse soring rule, which corrects deficiencies in USDA’s current regulations in ways that mirror provisions in the PAST Act, legislation that had 273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors in the 114th Congress. The PAST Act was introduced largely to force the agency to fix these very problems, many of which were identified by a damning 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General report urging regulatory changes to overhaul the existing enforcement regimen. And the agency itself warned horse sorers that it was considering some of these changes in public notices going back to 1979. So this rule is a long time in coming. But this rule, likely to be finalized within the next few days, could be characterized as a “midnight rule” and eliminated, despite the enormous number of lawmakers from both parties who have urged its adoption. It would be a terrible mistake for Congress to sweep them away and undercut these reasonable efforts—in the works for years, after getting substantial input from Congress—to ensure that animal protection laws are carried out effectively. There was nothing nefarious or undercutting about this rulemaking, and if anything, the Obama Administration has dragged its feet on it, rather than rushing it through at the last minute.

Another example is a rule made final in July that closes a loophole for the processing of downer calves—animals too sick, injured, or weak to walk—to prohibit sending them into the food supply, just as was done for downer cattle by USDA regulations in 2009. A series of undercover investigations documented that downer calves are subjected to the same heinous abuse as adult downer cows to get them on their feet for inspection, and showed the serious food safety concerns from eating calves unable to stand, as there were for downer cattle. This rule was anything but precipitously adopted—the agency had said back in 2013 that it would update its regulations to close the loophole—and a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators urged USDA and OMB to finish this rulemaking in letters sent in 2014 and 2015.

One report found that rules issued during the “midnight” or presidential transition period spent even more time in the rulemaking process and received even more extensive vetting than other rules. That’s our experience with the measures we’ve encouraged final action upon. Analysis of all economically significant rulemakings finalized since 1999 showed that such rules issued during the transition period took on average 3.6 years to complete compared to 2.8 years for such rules issued at other times during a term.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017, H.R. 26, would require that both houses of Congress approve a major rule (including those issued during the 60 legislative/session days prior to adjournment of the previous session), with no alteration, within a 70-day window. If both chambers are unable to swiftly approve a major rule, it would not take effect and reconsideration during that Congress would be precluded. By doing nothing, Congress would prevent existing laws from being implemented, including common sense, non-controversial rules affecting animal welfare. The bill forces expedited floor consideration by both chambers of resolutions to approve major rules and to disapprove nonmajor rules, and it bars judicial review of any actions taken under the REINS Act.

Congress already sets the boundaries for agency rulemaking, making the REINS Act needless and redundant. It is already the case that agencies can only exercise authority that has been delegated by Congress in authorizing legislation, and if agencies overstep their authority, judicial scrutiny can be invoked and agency actions can be reversed.

We urge Congress to reject both of these unwarranted bills, which take a sledgehammer approach to regulations and could negate well-considered and broadly supported rules to implement and enforce animal protection laws.

Contact your U.S. Representative TODAY and urge him or her to oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21 and the REINS Act of 2017, H.R. 26.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The 2016 congressional year in review for animals

The 115th Congress convenes today, and it’s set to be a busy next few months as legislators take up appropriations for FY17 and FY18, as well as many other presidential and congressional priorities. It’s going to be hectic, and at times contentious, but we’ll be there every day on the front lines driving change for animals.

Capitol
iStock Photo

As we gear up for the new year, let’s take a look back and reflect on some of the key victories for animals during the 2016 session. That list should include key rulemaking actions, where lawmakers advocated for executive agencies to take action and strengthen the regulations associated with major laws for animals.

Animals in Research and Testing: Signed into law in June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (P.L. 114-182) phases out archaic, costly, and non-predictive animal testing protocols in favor of 21st century technology. It reauthorized the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with new landmark provisions to reduce, and ultimately replace, the use of live animals for testing tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace, potentially saving millions of dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and other animals over time. This language was supported by the chemical industry, environmental and animal protection organizations. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to phase out some of the especially cruel and obsolete animal testing practices used by pesticide manufacturers for hundreds of new pesticide products brought to market each year.

Leads: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tom Udall, D-N.M., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.

Wildlife Trafficking: Congress passed the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act (P.L. 114-231, signed into law in October 2016) to support global anti-poaching efforts, require greater collaboration with NGOs and governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking, and allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger substantial penalties under money-laundering statutes. Separately, bipartisan letters signed by 108 Representatives and six Senators helped set the stage for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule to curtail the commercial ivory trade in the United States, estimated to be the world’s second largest market for ivory product sales behind China. House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports for FY17 also reiterated the need for agencies to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking and highlighted the role of this trade in financing armed insurgencies and terrorist organizations.

Leads: Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chris Coons, D-Del., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Peter King, R-N.Y., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

Farm Animals: After an appalling exposé of abuse and neglect at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and both chambers prevailed on the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to cover all its research practices under the standards of the Animal Welfare Act and institute regular inspections of all its animal research facilities. In addition, a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators successfully pushed the USDA to close a loophole in the agency’s 2009 regulation, which previously banned the slaughter of downer cattle (those too sick, weak, or injured to stand on their own) but did not cover downer veal calves, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. The USDA also made clear in its final rule that the humane handling regulations apply to all animals as soon as they arrive at slaughter facilities.

Leads: Sens. Merkley, Udall, Feinstein, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Booker, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Chris Smith, R-N.J., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.

Horses: Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved bipartisan amendments in their FY17 Agriculture bills to sustain language preventing horse slaughter plants from reopening in the United States. The continuing resolution passed in December 2016 will keep these despicable operations shuttered through April 28, 2017, the deadline Congress set to complete action for FY17 appropriations. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees also included language in their FY17 Interior bills to ensure that healthy, unadopted wild horses are not sent to slaughter and directed the Bureau of Land Management to continue researching viable, humane solutions, such as fertility control, to be used on the range to curb the ever growing wild horse numbers. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum also joined efforts to end the cruel practice of injuring horses to induce an artificial, pain-based, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick” in Tennessee Walking Horse shows. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act garnered 323 Senate and House cosponsors, and 42 Senators and 182 Representatives voiced support for the USDA’s still pending rule to fix its outdated regulations to eliminate the corrupt system of industry self-policing and the use of devices integral to soring (mirroring key provisions in PAST).

Leads: Sens. Udall, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Graham, Feinstein, Coons, Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Farr, Charlie Dent, R-Pa., Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Fitzpatrick, Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Animal Cruelty: In December 2016, the Senate gave unanimous approval to the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, which would create a federal anti-cruelty statute, complementing the state cruelty laws by prohibiting malicious animal abuse on federal property or in interstate commerce. While it was too late for the House to act, this priority legislation will start the 115th Congress with strong momentum, thanks to the Senate’s action. A bipartisan letter signed by 14 Representatives helped ensure inclusion of a provision in an executive order amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to explicitly establish an animal cruelty standard on military bases. Though animal abuse is thankfully rare among military personnel, this provision will help deter tragedies like some high-profile cases of animal cruelty on military bases in the news in recent years.

Leads: Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., Blumenauer, and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.

Reintroducing Priority Bills: We saw a lot of support for several important bills in 2016, which we’ll seek to get reintroduced as soon as possible. Those included:

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act—The PACT Act would amend and strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 by prohibiting those extreme acts (animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other heinous abuse) when they occur on federal property or in interstate commerce, regardless of whether an obscene video was produced (253 House cosponsors and 39 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Toomey and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, Deutch, Marino, and Blumenauer.

  • Pet and Women Safety Act—The PAWS Act would make it harder for abusers to prey on battered partners and their pets by allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases and authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets or help arrange for pet shelter. Currently, one-third of those subjected to domestic violence delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, and only three percent of domestic violence shelters allow pets; up to 84 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet (224 House cosponsors and 36 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

  • Safeguard American Food Exports Act—The SAFE Act would protect both horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. Horses destined for slaughter are often seriously injured or killed in long-distance transit, and the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths as they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. This predatory industry doesn’t “euthanize” old, sick horsesthey buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions (200 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Menendez, Graham, Mikulski, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Schakowsky, Buchanan, and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

  • Humane Cosmetics Act—The Humane Cosmetics Act would phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States. More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India. There are many alternative methodsfaster to perform and less costly to industry than expensive animal testingto ensure that products are safe for human use, and 195 companies including Paul Mitchell, Coty, Lush, and The Body Shop support this legislation (174 House cosponsors).
    Leads: Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.

  • Prevent All Soring Tactics Act—The PAST Act would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act to more effectively rein in the use of caustic chemicals, chains, weights, sharp objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to inflict pain on the hooves and legs of certain breeds to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping, pain-based gait. The bill incorporates reforms recommended by the USDA’s Inspector General in 2010 and by a broad cross-section of horse industry and veterinary groups, to end the failed industry self-policing scheme, ban devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all who participate in the abuse (273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Warner, and Reps. Yoho, Schrader, Fitzpatrick, Cohen, Jolly, and Schakowsky.

With a new Congress and a new president, we can expect to face new challenges, but the advances made in 2016 remind us that animal protection reflects shared American values and transcends partisan politics. In the 115th Congress, it’s likely that the Farm Bill a major rewrite of our agricultural lawswill be taken up, and that presents both concerns and opportunities for us.

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we stand ready to work with lawmakers across the political spectrum to advance a common-sense animal welfare agenda, and at the same time, to fight harmful policies that threaten animals. We welcome the incoming class, and thank you for all your support and advocacy that made these 2016 achievements possible, and for your continued efforts in 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

FTC to consumers: Don’t be duped by "fake" fur

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Photo courtesy of Richard-Seeley

This holiday season, shoppers around the country are looking for the perfect gifts and last-minute deals. It’s also a time when more and more consumers are thinking about conscious ethical purchasing choices and what impact the products they buy have on the world. This includes animal issues, whether it’s a puppy purchased from a pet store, cosmetics tested on animals, or food sources from factory farms.

When it comes to the fashion industry, there is still some misrepresentation of garments labeled as “faux fur” when they really contain animal fur. Recently, The Humane Society of the United States asked the Federal Trade Commission to bring enforcement action under federal protection laws against 17 retailers for false advertisement of fur garments. These retailers sold a combined 37 different styles of apparel and accessories that were advertised or labeled as “faux fur,” but actually included animal fur from raccoon dogs, rabbits, and coyotes.

While FTC is still reviewing this enforcement action, the agency has taken steps to help educate consumers this holiday season by releasing a blog that highlights the difference of faux fur and real fur, which I have posted below. We hope you use this information when shopping this holiday season, and we are grateful to the FTC for raising awareness of this important consumer protection and animal protection issue in the marketplace.


When fake fur is real

December 21, 2016
by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Do you have faux fur on your holiday wish list—maybe a jacket, hat or throw? It turns out that some faux fur is actually real fur, but manufacturers and retailers say it’s fake. And misleading people is against the law.

Both the federal Fur Act and the FTC’s Fur Rule (yes, there’s a Fur Act and a Fur Rule) say that companies have to give shoppers accurate information about what they’re buying—whether in a store, online, or in advertising. And, if it’s a real fur product, the law says it has to be labeled with the type of animal and the country where the fur comes from.

  • As you’re shopping, here are some ways make sure you’re getting the kind of fur—real or faux—that you’re after:
  • Don’t go by feel and color alone. Some fake fur is actually softer than some real fur. Also, fake fur can be dyed.
  • Separate the fur and look at the base. Fake fur usually has a mesh or threaded backing, while real fur usually is on a backing of skin or leather.
  • Look at the tips of the hairs. Unless they’ve been sheared or cut, the tips of animal fur taper to a fine point—like a sewing needle or sharpened pencil. The tips of faux fur don’t taper.

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Do you think you’ve spotted a company selling real fur as fake? Report it to the FTC. Your complaints help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies put an end to unfair and misleading business practices.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trump’s holiday bonus for big ag

A number of anti-animal politicians have been under consideration for cabinet posts in the Trump administration, but the president-elect has selected one of the very worst to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. An elected official who abused the power of his office to attack charities on behalf of agribusiness interests will now lead the federal agency responsible for a number of important animal issues, including animal testing for pesticides and chemicals, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from factory farms.

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

Pruitt has been so aligned with factory farming special interests that last year he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, which celebrated his work to sue the EPA over the Clean Water Act and to attack animal protection groups. Just a few days before the election, he was a keynote speaker at the convention of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which vigorously fought our successful ballot initiative to outlaw cockfighting in the state and unsuccessfully tried to block the use of the ballot initiative process on any animal welfare issues.

In 2016, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and Pruitt led a third unsuccessful fight to push a “right to farm.” State Question 777 would have amended Oklahoma’s constitution to give special rights to corporate and foreign-owned factory farms, and block future restrictions on agriculture. It was so broadly written that it could have prevented restrictions on puppy mills, horse slaughter, and even cockfighting. Pruitt penned an op-ed in the Tulsa World advocating for passage of the ballot measure, and later tried to defend it by saying it wouldn’t have any adverse impact on water quality in the state, after so many local government leaders panned SQ 777 and said how dangerous it was.

Voters saw through this deceptive and overreaching ballot measure, and soundly rejected it with 60.3 percent on the “no” side. Donald Trump won all 77 counties in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the country, but 37 of those counties sided with animal advocates and family farmers against Pruitt and Big Ag.

Pruitt also filed a lawsuit with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and other states’ Attorneys General to try to strike down California’s law that sets basic animal welfare and food safety standards for the sale of eggs in the state—requiring that the hens have enough space to turn around and stretch their wings. Pruitt and the other AG’s claimed to sue on behalf of their states and sought to allow egg factory farms to sell eggs in California, no matter how extreme the confinement of the hens or how bad the food safety standards. A federal judge dismissed the case, finding that Pruitt and the other AG’s were suing on behalf of special interests, not the citizens of their states. The federal appeals court upheld that dismissal last month.

Pruitt had previously used his position as Attorney General and used government channels, press releases, and social media to criticize The Humane Society of the United States, mounting a political attack on a charitable organization because of that group’s mission and beliefs. His playbook came straight off the script handed to him by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which has long stitched a phony and false narrative about the diverse work of The HSUS. This was an affront, and an example of the heavy hand of government trying to squelch the speech of an organization that holds views at odds with his political funders. It’s not the role of government to decide whose voice should be heard, and Pruitt’s abuse of power should outrage religious leaders, pro-life groups, and others with a values-based view of the world. Pruitt’s campaign against The HSUS was a sop to the Farm Bureau and his political allies who don’t like organizations working to crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.

The Agitator, a blog that covers nonprofit marketing, called it “an ugly, dangerous and utterly frightening campaign of distortion and intimidation,” under the guise of “consumer protection," and warned of “how some politicians and their special interest supporters are attempting to intimidate, discredit and destroy nonprofits that oppose them through the misuse of fundraising regulations.” The HSUS sued Pruitt over this abuse of power and campaign of harassment and public vilification, and then later withdrew the suit after the AG’s office announced it was no longer investigating the organization.

Trump has also appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be U.S. ambassador to China. Many family farmers claim that China is buying up American farms and treating our land and animals as China’s new outpost for factory farming, getting all the economic benefits of production and leaving the United States with all of the externalities. The fear is that Branstad, who’s viewed as an architect of this strategy, will now accelerate this move. Branstad was one of the first governors to sign an “ag-gag” measure in recent years, and he, too, has a poor record on a wide range of animal issues. 

With these selections, President-elect Trump has turned to two of the most anti-animal welfare politicians in America. It remains to be seen what’s to come for selections to the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and other key agencies that shape the policies that affect millions of animals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Court tears into Michigan wolf hunting law 

The State of Michigan Court of Appeals this week sided with wolf protection advocates, and declared unconstitutional the Michigan legislature’s attempt to force a trophy-hunting and trapping season on the state’s small population of wolves. The ruling is the latest blow to the blatant and outrageous power grab by politicians to subvert the will of the people of Michigan and their decision-making authority. It also restores the people’s decision in two statewide votes that occurred in November 2014. Those votes overwhelmingly rejected killing wolves solely for their heads and fur.

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iStock Photo

In 2014, in the first-ever statewide votes related to wolf hunting in any state, Michigan voters sent a loud and clear message against a wolf-hunting season and against the Natural Resources Commission having unilateral authority to transfer any “protected” species to the “game species” list. Voters repealed Proposal 1 (moving the wolf to the game species list) with a 55 percent “no” vote, and they defeated Proposal 2 (giving the NRC the authority to decide which species can be hunted), with a 64 percent “no” vote. Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of 83 counties, in a landslide verdict that said the NRC should not be able to open seasons on species. Michigan voters cast more than 1.8 million votes against Proposal 2—more votes than any other candidate for statewide office received in that same election.

It’s a story that had many twists and turns – perhaps more than any in my 20-year history of organized animal advocacy. State legislators, in their haste to circumvent a citizen’s referendum on wolf hunting, tried to cut voters out of the decision-making process by handing over power to the NRC’s seven, partisan political appointees. In their arrogance, they tried to ram this through, believing they knew better than the voters. The ringleader of this fiasco – state Senator Tom Casperson -- was defeated in a Republican primary this year, partly because he was called out for intentionally misleading voters and fabricating stories to stir up a fear of wolves.

What the legislature tried to do was an abuse of power.  It was their right to pass a bill to open up a trophy-hunting season for wolves. But there’s a constitutional process that allows voters to try to nullify that. The HSUS, HSLF, and our coalition partners through Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, including the Detroit Zoo, Detroit Audubon Society, and Native American tribes, led the fight to try to overturn their action, and that was Proposal 1.  After we got hundreds of thousands of signatures, but before there was a statewide vote of the people, lawmakers passed a second wolf trophy-hunting measure – this time, by giving the NRC the authority to set a wolf season.

We were appalled by this abuse of power.  But we rallied and launched a second petition drive, which became Proposal 2.

As we were gathering signatures for that measure, lawmakers worked with trophy-hunting groups to pass a third wolf-hunting measure – the convoluted measure that the Court of Appeals struck down today. That third measure included a clause that attempted to make that legislation immune from a referendum. Only our action in court cut down their attempt to disregard the interests of voters.

The Michigan Court of Appeals found that the legislature unconstitutionally bundled together multiple subjects in the bill, combining desirable provisions for waiving fees for hunting licenses, “while surreptitiously slipping inside” a legislative override of prior referenda votes and putting wolves on the game species list.

This case was just one of two major pending legal actions concerning the protection of wolves. In 2013, The HSUS filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves living in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In December 2014, in a 111-page ruling, a federal court overturned that rule, holding that the agency misapplied the requirement in the ESA and failed to explain how the “virtually unregulated” killing of wolves by states in the Great Lakes region does not constitute a continued threat to the species. The federal government appealed that case and a decision is expected in the next several months.

We and our partners have been fighting in the courts, in state legislatures, and in Congress, to prevent the trophy hunting and commercial trapping of hundreds of wolves. As Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and newly elected president of the United Tribes of Michigan, said, “The Three Fires people ~ the Anishinabek are hunters, gatherers and fishers. However, an enduring value is that you ‘take what you need and leave the rest’. We don't hunt our Brother Mae-ungun (wolf) because to do so is only for sport.”

The people of Michigan understood it’s unnecessary to hunt wolves because people don’t eat the animals and because it’s already legal to kill problem wolves. The people of Michigan don’t want trophy hunting, trapping, or hounding of wolves; they don’t want more legislative tricks; and they don’t want to cede authority to an unelected group of political appointees. This week’s state ruling restores the will of the people in Michigan, and combined with the federal court ruling draws a line in the sand against the persecution of wolves.

It should also be a wake-up call to lawmakers in other states and in Congress. This was the first statewide vote on wolf hunting in any state since wolves were stripped of their federal protections in six states. Decision makers across the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies should pay attention to this vote in Michigan and see how regular citizens feel about the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.

In the meantime, we can today be thankful that both state and federal courts have sided with us in making sure federal protection remains in place for wolves in the Great Lakes, and that Michigan’s democratic process is not subverted in favor of cruel wolf hunting and trapping that the voters have twice rejected at the ballot box. It’s time to respect the will of the people.

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