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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Newspapers Urge YES on Maine's Question 1 to Protect Bears

Whenever we’ve confronted terrible cruelty, there’s always been a fierce effort to defend it. I think of tough fights in Louisiana to ban cockfighting, in California on Prop 2 and extreme confinement, and on bear baying in South Carolina.

Seldom do we see unanimous support for reform. There are always opinion leaders who don’t accept the real meaning of animal protection, or others who excuse cruelty or think it’s too much, too fast.

That’s certainly the case in Maine, where there is a looming ballot initiative to ban bear baiting, hounding, and trapping. There, some opinion leaders defend this sort of cruelty and unfair treatment. But I’m struck by so many people calling cruelty for what it is.


The Journal Tribune says, “It’s hard to imagine a self-respecting, lifelong, traditional Maine woodsman calling himself a hunter when all he does is shoot a feeding, treed or trapped animal point-blank.”

The paper gives readers a clear picture of what these practices involve:“Traps only need to be checked once every 24 hours, which can leave an animal tormented for a lengthy period of time, and even though the snares no longer have cutting teeth, they can still result in the loss of a paw or digits as the animal attempts to escape. Hounding, while it requires significant time commitment in training dogs, places both the hunting dogs and the bear in danger as they confront one another.”

Further, the York County Coast Star says, “Maine is one of a last handful of states where baiting is allowed, and for good reason. The practice, akin to shooting fish in a barrel, is simply inhumane, and we see nothing sportsmanlike in shooting bears that have been lulled into a near sugar coma by stale doughnuts.”

The group of community papers including the Penobscot Bay Press, Castine Patriot, Island Ad-Vantages, and the Weekly Packet have also rendered their judgment, stating, “It is time that Maine joins the 21st century by showing respect and compassion for a species that shares our land and resources by stopping these unnecessarily cruel and harmful practices. We recommend a strong and unequivocal yes vote.”

And Current Publishing’s chain of newspapers across southern Maine emphatically states, “It’s cruel on many levels…We believe that the act of luring and killing snared bears just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t even seem like hunting. And we’re not sure why a hunter would feel satisfied with such a kill. Instead of allowing this method of hunting to continue, bring back bear hunting the way it should be.”

Even the papers that oppose Question 1 couldn’t find a lot of favorable things to say about these practices or those who defend them. The Portland Press Herald says, “A bear that’s chased by hounds has to run for its life and spends its last minutes terrified. A bear that steps in a cable snare can spend as long as 24 hours tethered to a tree before a hunter returns to shoot it.”

The Press Herald acknowledges that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “overreached” in its public campaign against Question 1 and judged that the TV ads “featuring uniformed state employees warning of a public safety crisis that could occur if the referendum passes were unnecessarily alarmist.”

The Bangor Daily News, too, says the state agency opposing Question 1 is making “low-quality arguments that don’t pass the straight-face test.” The paper also calls on politicians and state officials to do away with bear hounding and trapping: “If it fails at the polls, the Legislature and IF&W need to ban recreational bear trapping and hounding, or risk having this costly fight again.”

That doesn’t inspire much confidence in the decision makers who have made Maine an outlier, as the only state to still allow these three extreme bear hunting methods. They’ve had years to get it right, but they continue to allow bears to struggle and suffer in wire traps for hours or even a day, or to be chased by packs of GPS-collared hounds and shot off a tree branch. And they allow garbage dumps to be set up in the woods, with 7 million pounds of Twinkies and jelly doughnuts every year swelling the bear population and creating nuisance bears.

When the politicians and state officials are unresponsive to the wishes of the public, it’s time for the public to weigh in. Mainers can do just that in two weeks—and can end cruel and unsporting bear baiting, hounding, and trapping—by voting “YES” on Question 1.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Who Should Shoulder the Financial Burden when Animals are Abused?

Local and state anti-cruelty statues play a critical role in ensuring the humane treatment of animals in a community. When the right laws are on the books, animals can be removed from potentially dangerous situations, out of the hands of those suspected of abusing and neglecting them. Let’s say, for example, that 20 dogs, seven horses, and 39 chickens are found to be neglected, living and suffering in deplorable conditions on someone’s private property. Then, under a state anti-cruelty ordinance, the animals are seized by law enforcement, and officials proceed to press charges against the animals’ owner. By all accounts, it would seem the system’s working. Right?

Brian and Kimi spent more than a year in a shelter post-rescue.

The answer might surprise you. Animal welfare organizations and local officials who work to protect animals often find themselves in situations where, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished.

It’s not uncommon that they—rather than the animals’ owners—have to bear a prohibitively heavy financial burden to care for the rescued animals.

The rescuing agencies are often required to hold seized animals for months or even years while the judicial system moves through what can be a painstakingly slow process. In puppy mill and animal fighting cases, agencies can seize dozens of animals who need extensive veterinary care. Needless to say, associated costs can soar, placing a burden on these local organizations that have limited means. It can even create a latent disincentive within the relevant agencies to enforce the laws originally meant to protect animals.

For the system to really work, these important anti-cruelty statutes need to be augmented, through such measures as “cost of animal care” laws. Already on the books and proven to work in Pennsylvania, Virginia and 14 other states, the most effective cost of animal care laws shift the financial burden of caring for animals lawfully seized from situations of cruelty, abuse, and neglect from county governments and nonprofit shelters to the animals’ owner, saving animals and tax dollars. Instead of leaving local taxpayers and nonprofit organizations to foot the significant cost, the owner, who’s legally responsible for the animals’ care, is held accountable.

These laws provide that if an agency is holding animals seized from cruelty, the agency can go to court to request a bond payment from the animals’ owner to help pay for the animals’ care. If the judge determines that the seizure and amount requested are reasonable, and the owner fails to pay the bond, the animals are relinquished to the agency and can be placed for adoption. The owner has the opportunity for an expedited hearing to challenge the legality of the seizure and the reasonableness of the bond requirement, respecting due process and fair treatment of the people involved.

In states without effective cost of animal care laws, some shelters often can’t even rescue animals suffering in their community because they simply don’t have the resources to provide long-term care. If they do intervene and seize neglected or abused animals, they can be forced to turn away or euthanize adoptable animals because of space and staff limitations. One Georgia officer noted that at a certain point, his agency had more animals held for court than were available for adoption. And for the animals held for court, their journey out of a bad situation can be a long one. Unable to move to a new home or family until the criminal case is resolved, they languish in custody like a seized or impounded car.

How often do we see in our work that the problems created by reckless individuals are passed on as a financial burden to the rest of society? Tigers bred for roadside zoos and photo ops, chimps used in TV commercials, Burmese pythons let loose by exotic pet owners to wreak havoc in the environment. The people creating the problem by abusing and neglecting animals should bear some responsibility for their care and shouldn’t dump the problem on others to clean up their mess.

Cost of animal care laws are a sensible solution for the animals, as well as taxpayers and the broader animal welfare infrastructure. HSLF and HSUS have joined with other partners such as the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the National Animal Control Association, and will work in states like Alaska, California, Georgia, Maryland, Montana and New Hampshire, to implement these policies. If your state doesn’t have such laws in place, urge your legislators to pass them.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cast Your Ballot for Animals

On February 18, 1958, then-Senator John F. Kennedy told an audience of Loyola College alumni in Baltimore that we should “not seek the Republican answer or the Democrat answer but the right answer.”

Today, 56 years later and just 26 days shy of a crucial election, we at the Humane Society Legislative Fund are also after the right answers. The right answers for animals are the lawmakers who will fight animal cruelty and abuse, and stand up for the values of kindness and compassion.

This week we released our Animal Protection Voter Guide—a list of those humane-minded candidates endorsed by HSLF who need your support in three and a half weeks. You’ll see Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on the list—we make endorsements based on candidates’ records or positions on animal issues rather than on political party or affiliation.

We hope you’ll take the Voter Guide with you to the polls. Election Day is November 4, but early voting is already open in many places throughout the country. Check the guide to see if voting is open where you live.

Julie Busch Branaman
Vote for humane candidates on or before Nov. 3

So, so much is at stake this year. Michigan residents: you’ll notice a slate of pro-animal candidates at the federal and state levels who need your support, and we’ve highlighted the important NO vote on Proposals 1 and 2.

There are fewer than 650 wolves in Michigan, and and the federal government recently took them off the endangered species list. Politicians and state officials didn’t waste a minute to try to open a trophy hunting season, fabricating stories about wolf encounters with residents to support their reckless idea. 

The use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves may all be in store if the Natural Resources Commission is given the unilateral power to decide on these cruel methods without any checks and balances from Michigan voters. Voters can say NO to the trophy hunting of wolves and say NO to this power grab by politicians, with a NO vote on Proposals 1 and 2.

November 4 will also be critical for Maine residents: You have the chance to ban the baiting, hounding, and trapping of bears, by voting YES on Question 1. Maine is the only state in the country to still allow all three of these cruel and unsporting practices. Hunters are not allowed to bait, hound, or trap deer or moose, and they shouldn’t be allowed to do it to bears. It's particularly cruel to trap a bear in a snare, and it’s unfair to shoot a bear out of a tree or over a dump site. Head to your city or town hall to cast your YES vote for Question 1 now—you don’t even have to wait until Election Day.

Along with these ballot measure campaigns, there are important candidate races from coast to coast. The pro-animal candidates need your help and your vote. In order to have humane laws, we must elect humane lawmakers. We need people in office who will stand up to puppy mills, factory farming, animal fighting, and other abuses, and support a positive agenda of animal welfare.

Your vote, combined with that of other humane voters who care about the fate of animals, can be the difference.

The animals are counting on us to participate in this election. Please grab your list, and make sure to vote early or on November 4.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Caught on Tape: The Problem of Tigers as Pets and Photo Ops

Alex the Tiger at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch Credit JP Bonnelly
Alex the tiger at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. Credit: J.P. Bonnelly

Starting tomorrow, October 2, animal lovers around the world will get a rare insider’s look into the life of tigers. Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch’s TigerCam offers Internet users a live glimpse of a new beginning for four rescued tigers in the sanctuary’s recently opened five-acre big cat habitat. Black Beauty Ranch, operated by our affiliate The Fund for Animals, is a sprawling East Texas sanctuary that offers a home to animals who were abused or abandoned in the exotic pet trade, horse slaughter plants, research laboratories, and other forms of cruelty and neglect.

The stars of TigerCam—Alex, Gustavo, Anastasia, and Natalia—were all once privately owned animals rescued by The HSUS and other organizations—one tiger from an abandoned Kansas menagerie and three from an unaccredited, roadside zoo in Mississippi. Eleven exotic animals were seized from inhumane conditions at the Collins Zoo in 2012, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked its license earlier this year.

It’s very happy news that these four tigers found a safe landing place at Black Beauty Ranch. But there’s too great a demand for sanctuaries these days. Far too many animals are in crisis because our laws still permit the private ownership and overbreeding of dangerous predators by reckless individuals—and it’s the sanctuaries, nonprofit groups, and government agencies that have to clean up the mess.

Thousands of captive tigers and lions, in fact, live in unaccredited breeding facilities, squalid roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, and in private homes in the 17 states where such pet ownership is still legal. Although USDA is currently considering a legal petition by The HSUS and other groups to prohibit such activity, exhibitors routinely make tiger and lion cubs available for photographs and interaction with the public at roadside zoos and shopping malls across the country. Unqualified caretakers and unaccredited facilities make for environments that are unnatural and inhumane for these wild animals, whose most basic biological and behavioral needs often go unmet.

Anastasia Sedated Collins Zoo Rescue Jan. 2012 Kathy Milani
Anastasia sedated during the Collins Zoo rescue. Credit: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

It almost never ends well for the people or animals. When the baby tigers and lions grow up and become dangerous and difficult to handle, they’re dumped at sanctuaries and nonprofit animal welfare groups across the country that must then spend millions of dollars to care for them.

That’s why HSLF and other groups are working hard to help pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, S. 1381 and H.R. 1998, to end the private possession and breeding of tigers, lions, and other big cats. Introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., the federal policy would help stem the reckless overbreeding of these captive wild animals for display, protecting public safety and the welfare of big cats caught up in this trade.

In the last 24 years, four children have been killed, and 66 have lost limbs or suffered other injuries in incidents involving captive big cats. Eighteen adults have been killed in similar incidents during that time, and many others have been mauled. To date more there’ve been more than 330 recorded cases of dangerous interactions with big cats, in almost every state.

Lions and tigers are dangerous wild animals, not backyard pets. Those in the wild deserve our best efforts to ensure their protection, and those in captivity deserve thoughtful, considered care. That’s best left to professional zoos and legitimate wildlife sanctuaries accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Please contact your federal legislators today, and urge them to pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. If they could, the four TigerCam stars would thank you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are Your Lawmakers Making the Grade?

As we approach the end of the 113th Congress (which spans 2013-2014), HSLF is posting a preview of our 2014 Humane Scorecard. I hope you will check it out and see how your U.S. senators and U.S. representatives have performed so far in this Congress on animal protection issues. If they did well, please thank them; if they have room for improvement, please let them know you’re paying attention, and that there is still time for them to do better before the final scorecard is wrapped up at the end of the year.

Capitol for Scorecard Blog

In this preliminary report, we evaluate lawmakers’ performance on animal protection issues by scoring a number of key votes, but also their support for adequate funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws, and their co-sponsorship of priority bills. We provide extra credit for legislators who took the lead on one or more animal protection issues.
You’ll see among the key votes this session how lawmakers sided on whether to weaken the Endangered Species Act, to curb massive subsidies to factory farms, and to open wilderness areas to sport hunting and trapping, dump toxic lead ammunition into the environment, and give a sweetheart deal to millionaire big-game hunters who want to import sport-hunted polar bear trophies. Because the Farm Bill comes up only once every five or six years, we have given weight to several critical votes—opposing the package when it included the dangerous and overreaching “King amendment,” which threatened to nullify hundreds of state and local laws on food safety, animal welfare and agriculture, and supporting the final Farm Bill when it nixed the King amendment and included an upgrade to the animal fighting law.
Building the number of co-sponsors on a bill is an important way to show that there is a critical mass of bipartisan support for the policy, and to help push the legislation over the finish line. Already in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic jump in the co-sponsor counts for each of these bills, and we need to keep the momentum going with your help.

The bill to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring has 305 co-sponsors in the House and 59 in the Senate; the bill to end the trade of primates as pets has 143 co-sponsors in the House and 23 in the Senate; the horse slaughter bill has 181 co-sponsors in the House and 30 in the Senate; the egg industry reform bill has 151 co-sponsors in the House and 18 in the Senate; and the animal fighting spectator bill has 230 co-sponsors in the House and 41 in the Senate.
These are impressive numbers, and they show the strength of our cause and our grassroots support. In fact, thanks to the large showing of support for the legislation making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight, it was attached to the final Farm Bill and enacted into law in February—the fourth successful upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute in just the last dozen years. Members can still technically co-sponsor the animal fighting legislation this year, but since it’s already been enacted, co-sponsorship of the four other bills is a higher priority.

Please check the scorecard charts and call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today. Thank each of them for their support of the bills that they’re already on and urge them to co-sponsor any of the five animal protection bills being counted on the 2014 Humane Scorecard that they’re not yet co-sponsoring. If they decide to join on before the end of the 113th Congress, they’ll receive credit on the final version of this Humane Scorecard that will be printed in January.

You can look up your federal legislators here, and then call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to each of your legislators. Here are the animal protection bills that will count on the scorecard and we hope will gather additional cosponsors before year’s end:

Horse for Scorecard Blog

Horse Soring—S. 1406 and H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; approved on a unanimous voice vote by the Senate Commerce Committee in April—to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, and attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs and heavily weighted shoes and “stacks” that force the horse’s legs into an unnatural angle and conceal bolts. This legislation will amend the existing Horse Protection Act to end the failed industry self-policing system, strengthen penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal, as well as directing another to do so.
Captive Primates as Pets—S. 1463 and H.R. 2856, the Captive Primate Safety Act. Introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; approved on a voice vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in July—to prohibit the interstate trade in primates as pets, for the sake of both animal welfare and human safety. Primates bred for the pet trade are typically forcibly removed from their mothers shortly after birth. While they’re in high demand as infants, people quickly discover that maturing primates can be destructive, messy and dangerous. This often leads to frustrated primate owners abandoning their pets by dumping them on animal shelters, or keeping pet primates in small cages, chained in backyards, or otherwise confining them in a way that fails to meet these animals’ most basic behavioral needs, causing significant animal welfare problems. Primates can be very aggressive and regularly bite people, and also pose significant public health challenges, as these animals often carry dangerous viruses such as Herpes B, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, and Brucellosis.
Horse Slaughter—S. 541 and H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.—to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. Legislators also receive credit if they voted in favor of a related amendment, offered by Sens. Landrieu and Graham and Rep. Moran during markup of the Senate and House Agriculture Appropriations bills. 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. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility.
Eggs and Hen Housing—S. 820 and H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.—to provide for a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, phased in over a period of 15-16 years (during the normal course of replacing aged equipment for many producers), which will significantly improve animal welfare and provide a stable and secure future for U.S. egg farmers. Under this legislation, each laying hen will ultimately be provided nearly double the amount of current space, along with enrichments such as nest boxes and perches that permit hens to better express natural behaviors.

Pit Bull for Scorecard blog

Animal Fighting Spectators—S. 666 and H.R. 366, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La, and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.; similar legislation adopted as part of the Farm Bill enacted in February 2014—to establish misdemeanor penalties for knowingly attending an organized animal fight and felony penalties for knowingly bringing a minor to such a fight. Representatives also receive credit if they voted in favor of a related amendment, offered by Rep. McGovern during markup of the Farm Bill in the House Agriculture Committee. Spectators are more than mere observers at animal fights. They are participants and accomplices who enable the crime, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling wagers, and helping conceal organizers and handlers who try to blend into the crowd when a raid occurs.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Splashy Move: Obama Designates World’s Largest Marine Preserve

Way out in the central Pacific, there’s a swath of ocean twice the size of Texas where millions of marine animals now have safe haven from commercial killing, entanglement in fishing lines, and other human-caused dangers. Using special authority first exercised by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, yesterday President Obama expanded the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles, making it the largest marine monument in the world.

The expansion spells greater protection for deep coral reefs, on which countless species depend for survival. The coral trade, which threatens to destroy vulnerable reefs just like those in this area, won’t be permitted.

Douglas Hoffman
The preserve is off-limits to commercial fishing.

The marine monument also creates more refuge for animals who migrate and forage across miles of sea, like manta rays and sharks. Sharks have been maligned for decades and are currently caught up in the cruel trade of shark finning  (the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean) around the world.

HSLF and The HSUS worked in Congress to pass the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, to strengthen the U.S. law against finning in domestic waters, and with our partners at Humane Society International, have banned the trade in shark fins in nine states and three U.S. territories to dry up consumer demand for shark fin soup. This expansive sanctuary in the Pacific further helps to keep sharks safe from this commercial cruelty.

The newly designated area also protects dozens of species of marine mammals and five species of endangered sea turtles from the countless deaths that occur when the animals become entangled in commercial fishing gear. And for the millions of birds who depend on this section of sea—foraging over hundreds of miles of water to bring food back to their rookeries on shore—the preserve means a greater opportunity to flourish and continue sustaining ecosystems on nearby land.

The Obama administration’s record on animal issues is a mixed one, but with more ups than downs. There has been meaningful progress made on issues such as cracking down on abusive puppy mills, tackling the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks, and retiring chimpanzees from labs to sanctuaries, but they have fallen short on policies that harm animals such as stripping wolves of their federal protections and mismanaging wild horses and burros. The President’s proclamation designating the world’s largest marine reserve is a positive step not only to protect marine animals from cruelty, but also to help rebuild biodiversity and improve ecosystem resilience. At a time when the world’s oceans are under assault in myriad ways, these are good waves to make.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Deer at the County Fair? Missouri Vote Keeps the Wild in Wildlife

In a late-night, nail-biting vote yesterday, the Missouri House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would’ve relaxed restrictions on captive deer farms. Language in the bill reclassified captive deer as “livestock” rather than “wildlife.” The Senate had voted to override the veto, and the House failed by just one vote to get the two-thirds majority needed. As Missourinet reported

House Republican leadership kept the voting board open more than 20 minutes while it looked for the 109 votes needed for a veto overturn. When the tally hit 109 the instruction was given to close the board, but one lawmaker, Jeff Roorda of Barnhart, switched his vote from a “yay” to a “nay” at the last moment and the bill failed.

The legislature passed nearly every other veto override that came up yesterday, on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to the budget, and the agriculture bill was the rare exception. It was a big loss for the Missouri Farm Bureau and other interests that want virtually no regulations on any type of farming, no matter how reckless or inhumane. And it was a win for family farmers standing up to Big Ag, as well as for conservation and animal protection advocates who work to stop captive hunting ranches and prevent the spread of disease to native wildlife. 

Deer in Missouri should be treated as wildlife, not livestock.
John Harrison

When he vetoed the legislation in July, Gov. Nixon noted that “White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals—no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area,” and that the Department of Conservation should not be “stripped of its authority…in order to protect narrow interests.”

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Missouri’s deer farms need more regulation, not less. In the Indianapolis Star’s outstanding investigative series “Buck Fever”, reporter Ryan Sabalow notes that chronic wasting disease has been found in 22 states. It’s usually been first detected in captive deer or elk herds before later being found in nearby wildlife.

And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. Wildlife officials in Missouri and other states “cited gaps in fences, or reports of escapes, at hunting preserves where CWD was found.”

In fact, the report notes, “The discovery of chronic wasting disease in Missouri in 2010 and 2011 is one of many cases that offer strong evidence that farms have helped spread the disease.” More than 30,000 wild deer in the state had been tested for almost a decade without a single positive result.

But after 11 infected deer were found on two game farms, 10 others were found in the wild within two miles of one of the pens—and nowhere else in the state. Missouri officials spent more than $1 million dealing with the outbreak of the disease, which didn’t exist in the wild in Missouri until it was introduced on the preserve.

The shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens not only spreads disease but also makes a mockery of fair-chase hunting. Sabalow cites a case at the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri: “One bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

Why would lawmakers put the entire hunting and livestock economy at risk just so a few people can claim a trophy with an easy kill of a tame animal? It’s just common sense that deer should be treated as wildlife, not livestock—after all, when’s the last time you saw a deer shown at the county fair?

Unfortunately, there are special interests that want to profit from the commercialization of wildlife, no matter the costs to the state or public health, and there are politicians who blindly support their agenda, no matter how extreme. Thankfully, in this case, they fell short in their attempt to gut the restrictions, and common sense prevailed.

Friday, September 05, 2014

100 Years of Solitude: Extinction Story Calls for Action Today

This week marked a dark centennial in our relationship with animals. On September 1, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon, Martha, died alone in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s rare that we know the exact date a species became extinct, but in this case, we know it’s been 100 years since the extermination of passenger pigeons, which used to number in the billions in the United States.

The passenger pigeon's extinction story has modern implications.

The birds were once so common that they would darken the skies for hours or even days at a time. Yet they were wiped out in just a few decades in the late 19th century, largely due to unregulated market hunting, even on their nesting grounds.

This vast commercial slaughter was enabled by new technologies such as the telegraph, which helped to lead hunters to their flock locations, and railroads, which transported box cars of pigeon carcasses to buyers in urban cities.

The plight of the passenger pigeon is a reminder 100 years later that we must redouble our efforts to protect imperiled species and do all that we can to crack down on the commercial killing of wild animals.

The Endangered Species Act is now under attack by members of Congress who want to roll back protections for rare creatures on the brink of extinction. The House has passed H.R. 4315, which would undermine the work of professional wildlife scientists and obstruct their efforts to list species as threatened or endangered. And it's considering a raft of other bills next week to continue gutting the ESA.

The Senate is considering S. 2363, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” seeking to punch holes in our federal conservation laws by encouraging the trophy killing of threatened polar bears and the pumping of toxic lead ammo into the environment which poisons eagles, condors, and other birds.

A century later, we still have commercial killing of wild animals for profit, although it’s sometimes dressed up as "wildlife management." Elephants and rhinos are butchered for their tusks and horns. But fortunately states are taking action to ban the trade in these products, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to tighten the rules on ivory sale.

Wolves, just recently stripped of their Endangered Species Act protections, are killed for trophies and fur pelts, but Michigan voters are fighting back and working to stop the abuse by politicians and special interests. Black bears are lured to piles of jelly doughnuts and rotting meat and caught in traps so professional guides can sell an easy kill at point-blank range to rich trophy hunters. Maine voters are working to end those cruel and unsporting practices and will vote on the issue this November.

As we take on these critical fights to end the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, wolves, bears, and other wildlife, let’s remember Martha, the last passenger pigeon, and a symbol of our past errors. Our nation can do better for these creatures and help ensure their humane treatment and their survival for future generations.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rescued Primates Need Immigration Reform Too

It’s generally unlawful to import primates into the United States—and for good reason. The animals suffer in the exotic pet trade, can be dangerous to people and other animals, and can even spread serious diseases to humans.

That’s why 26 states have banned the private ownership of primates as pets, and we are working to bar the interstate commerce in chimpanzees and other primates sold over the Internet or at exotic animal auctions.

A chimpanzee at Chimp Haven sanctuary
Brandon Wade/AP Images for The HSUS

The current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations governing the import of primates allow for certain types of foreign imports by U.S. zoos, circuses, universities, and other facilities for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes.

But there is one important category of exemption missing: The CDC currently excludes legitimate nonprofit animal sanctuaries and blocks them from importing primates who need rescue and proper care.

U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have introduced H.R. 3556, the Humane Care for Primates Act, to correct this omission.

This bill will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a rule allowing the importation of primates for the purpose of placement in certified sanctuaries.

It won’t cost the government anything, but it will help give the nonprofit sanctuary sector the opportunity to rescue primates in need and provide them the humane care they would not otherwise receive. And to qualify, sanctuaries would have to meet strict standards of care.

As Rep. Ellmers noted:

While the number of primates that enter the U.S. under this new rule will likely be small, it will truly make a difference for each individual animal. For instance, in 2011, a rescue center in Amman, Jordan requested that a U.S. sanctuary import and provide permanent refuge for three vervet monkeys and nine baboons confiscated from severely inhumane circumstances in zoos and private possession.

That same year, another rescue center in Kenya requested that a U.S. sanctuary take in a yellow baboon who was kept as a pet for two years and was facing impending euthanasia. Despite being fully equipped to accept and care for these primates for the rest of their lives, as well as the ability to assist a foreign sanctuary in need, the current regulation forced the U.S. facilities to deny these requests.

Shouldn’t a U.S. sanctuary that has the proper capacity and professional expertise be allowed to rescue and care for a baboon or monkey languishing in Africa or Asia, when there is no other option? If you can import a primate to perform in a circus or to be used in a lab experiment, shouldn’t you also be able to do so for the well-being of the animal?

This important bill is supported by HSLF, The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and other U.S. and international animal protection groups. Please contact your own U.S. representative today, and urge him or her to cosponsor the Humane Care for Primates Act.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Movement for Hens to Move

KPBS of San Diego reported this weekend on Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside converting its battery cage egg facility to cage-free housing for hens. Owner Frank Hilliker says the birds appear to be happier and are producing more. He says he was against the cage-free idea for 40 years, especially in 2008 when California voters decided Proposition 2 in November of that year.

But after voters emphatically said they want more humane treatment of laying hens, Hilliker has invested $200,000 to convert one hen house and has four more to go.

California farmers are moving birds out of cages.

Prop 2, approved with 63.5 percent of the statewide vote, has already had a big impact even though its does not go into legal effect until January 2015.

Throughout the state—fifth largest in the nation in egg production—farmers are moving birds from small wire cages, where they are crammed 12 to a cage and are virtually immobilized for their entire lives.

Hens are living new lives in cage-free barns, where they can spread their wings, scratch, nest, and engage in natural behaviors.

In addition to Hilliker’s, other egg producers such as Hidden Villa Ranch and Opal Foods are expanding their cage-free operations. And major food service providers, grocery stores, and restaurant chains are driving the market to put more cage-free eggs in front of consumers.

Several Midwestern attorneys general, led by Missouri’s Chris Koster, have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn California’s humane law—arguing that it will be too costly for farmers. But the standards are clearly workable, and that’s made plain by the producers who are shifting their production methods and realizing that the outcome is better for them, for consumers, and for the hens.

The outliers who want to continue to cram birds into tiny wire cages that are filthy breeding grounds for Salmonella are falling increasingly out of step with consumers and with the standards of decency in our society. And government officials shouldn’t pander to them.

Why should California consumers be forced to buy products that are unsafe and inhumane, such as eggs from cruel battery cages in Iowa? That state was the epicenter of a massive Salmonella outbreak in 2010, resulting in more than 1,000 people being sickened across the country and prompting the recall of a half-billion eggs. If producers from Iowa, Missouri, or any other state want to sell eggs to California, they should meet California’s reasonable animal welfare and food safety standards.

There are still some who complain about states having different rules on egg production. Congress had an opportunity to do something about it, by passing legislation backed by animal welfare groups and the egg industry to establish comprehensive national standards for the housing of laying hens—improving the treatment of not only the 20 million hens in California, but all 285 million in the United States.

Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked, for the time being, by the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which oppose all state and federal standards to improve animal welfare on farms and slaughterhouses. 

Kudos to the California egg producers who are transitioning their operations in the run-up to Prop 2 taking effect next year and providing the birds with more space and better lives.

This kind of progress shouldn’t be slowed by Midwestern attorneys general trying to curry favor with Big Ag. It should be an example that good farmers are capable of making a transition that’s aligned with animal welfare principles and the wants of consumers.

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