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April 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

NRA Poster Boy Pleads Guilty to Poaching—Again

Ted Nugent, the NRA’s longest-serving board member and a featured speaker at the NRA’s recent convention in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, has pleaded guilty in federal court for transporting an illegally killed black bear in Alaska. He reportedly shot a bear with a bow and arrow, but failed to kill the animal. Four days later, he shot another bear in violation of the law.

It was Nugent’s second poaching crime in just two years. Back in 2010, he pleaded no contest to killing a young deer with the use of bait and not having a properly signed hunting tag in California.

Black bearThe NRA says in its “code of ethics” that it condemns poaching: “I will obey all game laws and regulations, and will insist that my companions do likewise.” But talk is cheap. Here’s a board member, an NRA national spokesperson, and an annual convention presenter who has been caught poaching twice. If the NRA’s credo means anything, and isn’t just rhetorical window-dressing, it should be applied to Nugent. 

Anti-poaching work largely falls on the shoulders of state and federal wildlife agencies, game wardens’ associations, some responsible hunting groups, and The Humane Society of the United States. Since 2008, The HSUS has offered more than $400,000 in rewards for information in poaching cases, donated equipment and robotic decoys to cash-strapped state wildlife agencies, sponsored an anti-poaching tip line, and launched a network aimed at ensuring that poaching crimes are taken seriously by prosecutors. The HSUS and HSLF have helped to pass laws to strengthen poaching penalties, and block efforts to weaken them or to strip wildlife officers of their powers. We often fight the NRA when we try to strengthen anti-poaching laws.

When the NRA won’t even stand up against illegal poaching, it’s no surprise the group is on the side of the most unsporting and inhumane legal practices, no matter how extreme or how reviled by rank-and-file sportsmen. The NRA is fighting against Senate Bill 1221 in California, which passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water this week by a vote of 5 to 3, and would ban the use of packs of radio-collared dogs to chase bears and bobcats onto tree branches where trophy hunters can shoot the frightened animals at point-blank range. Judd Hanna, a hunter and president of the California Game Wardens Foundation, provided a litany of cases of poaching and other unethical behavior by houndsmen, in his statement of support for S.B. 1221.

At the federal level, the NRA is now pushing the U.S. Congress to pass a $12 million package that provides a bailout to a tiny group of wealthy trophy hunters who want to import polar bear heads and hides in defiance of current law, mandates hunting on nearly all federal land without regard for the impact on wildlife or other resources, and strips the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect habitat, animals, and people from lead poisoning through toxic ammunition exposure. They rammed the bill through the House on the heels of the NRA convention, and now they are targeting the Senate.

It’s time to tell Congress that a group that won’t stand up to poaching has no business asking for a $12 million hand-out from taxpayers to roll back our existing conservation laws. Please call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 225-3121 and urge them to oppose H.R. 4089.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Senate Subcommittee Hears Bill to End Chimp Research

Just following Earth Day and the release of the Disney Nature documentary Chimpanzee, which features chimpanzees in the wild where they belong, Congress considers the fate of the approximately 950 chimpanzees currently languishing in six U.S. laboratories.

Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., held a hearing on S. 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will phase out invasive research on chimpanzees, stop breeding of chimpanzees for invasive research and retire the approximately 500 government-owned chimpanzees to the sanctuary they deserve.

Ktty_270x224The scientific, economic and ethical evidence has been mounting in recent years—all clearly pointing to the need to end invasive research on chimpanzees and move science forward. An Institute of Medicine report released in December concluded that the vast majority of biomedical research on chimpanzees is unnecessary and didn’t identify a single area of biomedical research that absolutely requires chimpanzee use. The IOM report has changed the dynamic on this issue and helped to build consensus for the policy of phasing out invasive research on chimps.

Dr. Martin Wasserman, a physician and former Maryland State Health Secretary testified in support of the bill today, and he emphasized the scientific advances that have rendered the use of chimpanzees unnecessary and the non-chimpanzee models that are more efficient and effective for advancing human health. We are grateful to Chairman Cardin for holding this important hearing, and to the other subcommittee members, especially Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who spoke in favor of the legislation and the need to protect approximately 200 chimpanzees housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in his state.

Chimpanzees, because of their size, long lifespan and special behavioral needs, are extremely expensive to use and maintain in a laboratory setting. So, why would we continue to spend money on research that isn’t necessary and on maintaining expensive government contracts with private companies to take care of the chimpanzees? For example, the government spends $4.5 million per year to maintain a group of approximately 175 chimpanzees who haven’t been used in 10 years. Sanctuaries are available and can provide superior care at a lower cost. Ending invasive chimpanzee research and retiring these animals to sanctuary would save the government $300 million over the next decade. With so many lawmakers concerned about the federal deficit and government waste, here’s an opportunity to save money and make government run better.

An undercover investigation into the world’s largest chimpanzee laboratory revealed chimpanzees isolated in small, steel cages for months at a time and psychologically disturbed animals, such as Sterling, who self-mutilated and was deemed ineligible for research yet remained in a concrete enclosure. Sadly, we recently learned that Sterling passed away and never got to live in a sanctuary where he could feel sunshine on his face and grass beneath his feet.

And remember those chimpanzees in the wild who were featured in Chimpanzee? There is a growing body of evidence that exploiting captive chimpanzees in the U.S. impacts the conservation of the species in the wild. And the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is currently considering The HSUS’s 2010 petition to protect all chimpanzees as endangered, no matter where they may be found.

We should be doing all that we can to protect chimpanzees in captivity and in the wild, and Congress now has an opportunity to do so. Take action and urge your lawmakers to pass this legislation, before time runs out for these special animals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

House Votes to Shoot Down Conservation Laws

The U.S Congress has a lower approval rating than polygamy and pornography, and sometimes it’s easy to understand why.  When it comes to creating jobs, passing a budget, and meeting other important challenges for the American people, there is little more than gridlock and partisan bickering. But when it comes to bilking the American taxpayers to benefit special interests such as the trophy hunting lobby, there’s just no stopping them.

PolarbearThis was on full display yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives—the very day millions of Americans were paying their taxes—when a majority of lawmakers exhibited utter fealty to the NRA and the sport hunting lobby by passing a $12 million package to shoot holes in multiple landmark conservation laws. It was shameless pandering to the NRA, a piece of political theatre staged on the House floor right on the heels of the NRA’s convention in St. Louis.

H.R. 4089, the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012, is an omnibus package that combines several bad ideas into one bill—reopening the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, encouraging more reckless killing of threatened species; opening millions of acres of federal lands and wilderness areas to sport hunting, regardless of the impacts to the environment and other park users; and halting efforts to switch from toxic lead ammunition to non-toxic alternatives that do not poison wildlife and the environment.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., led the effort to protect polar bears by offering an amendment to strike the trophy import language from the bill. The imports have been forbidden since 2008 when the Bush Administration listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but it hasn’t stopped wealthy trophy hunters and their allies in Congress from putting polar bears in their sights time and again. As Rep. Peters told his colleagues:

The trophy hunting community was aware that the ESA listing would take place for well over a year prior to its effective date, and trophy hunters were warned by federal agencies and hunting associations that the final listing would cut off imports immediately. These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation, and decided to hunt and kill these beautiful creatures anyway. They have also had their day in court; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal court have already rejected hunters’ requests to import trophies after the effective date of the listing.

H.R. 4089 will essentially treat these 41 trophy hunters who killed their bears before the ESA listing occurred as though the listing had never taken effect. While it is too late to save these bears, enacting this legislation creates a perverse incentive for trophy hunters to take any species soon to be protected under the ESA because Congress will just bail them out after the fact. 

Unfortunately, the House rejected the Peters amendment by a vote of 155 to 262, with 145 Democrats and 10 Republicans siding with polar bear protection, and the rest siding with wealthy trophy hunters. We are grateful to Rep. Peters for leading the charge to protect polar bears on the House floor, and also to Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Jim Moran, D-Va., who spoke in favor of the amendment. Please be sure to check how your Representative voted, and express your thanks to those voting yes and disappointment to those who voted no.

The final bill passed by a vote of 274 to 146, including the harmful language on sport-hunted polar bear trophy imports, toxic lead ammo, and forcing decisions on hunting to be handed down by Washington bureaucrats rather than local public lands managers. Now the bill goes to the U.S. Senate, and it must be stopped. Please call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose H.R. 4089. It will cost American taxpayers $12 million, it only benefits special interests, and it’s an expensive power grab that guts our wildlife conservation laws.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shoot Down Polar Bear Trophy Hunts and Other Radical Proposals

As early as next week, the U.S. House of Representatives may consider H.R. 4089, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012,” a highly controversial omnibus bill that combines several radical hunting proposals into one awful package. Among other things, the legislation seeks to allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada; mandate that the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service open nearly all federal public lands to hunting without regard to the impact on wildlife and other resources; and strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate toxic lead. Each one of these component parts would warrant our vigorous opposition, but to combine all of them into one package, is a disgrace and the House should reject it.

Please call your U.S. Representative today at (202) 225-3121, and follow up with an email, asking him or her to vote “No” on H.R. 4089.

The measure would undermine several current federal wildlife protection and environmental laws, further imperil already threatened species and the environment, and undermine federal agencies’ ability to carry out their wildlife and public lands management obligations.  I want to demonstrate why this bill, in all of its component parts, is such a disaster:
 
POLAR BEARS: H.R. 4089 would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the importation of two classes of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada. First, it would allow import of polar bear trophies taken in Canada before February 18, 1997, regardless of whether the polar bear was taken from an approved or unapproved population. Since prior to 1997 there were approved populations from which U.S. trophy hunters could take bears and import their trophies, only trophy hunters who killed polar bears from unapproved populations would benefit under this provision. We shouldn’t reward these trophy hunters who killed polar bears in contravention of the MMPA and now seek to benefit from their unlawful behavior.
 
Bear_polar_bear_and_cub_270x224Second, H.R. 4089 would allow import of polar bear trophies taken in Canada and only from bears hunted from approved populations before the May 2008 Endangered Species Act listing took effect. In practice, it would treat trophy hunters who killed their bears before the ESA listing took effect as though the listing had never taken effect. The trophy hunting community was aware that the ESA listing would take place for over 16 months prior to its effective date, and trophy hunters were repeatedly warned by federal agencies and hunting associations that the final listing would cut off imports immediately. These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation, and allowing them to import those trophies now would constitute an unfair bailout.
 
The MMPA prohibits the sport hunting of polar bears in the U.S. and it prohibits the import of any marine mammal, including dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions, and walruses. The law should be consistently applied, and we should not have a special carve-out for a few trophy hunters who shot polar bears in Canada, knowing full well that they may not be able to import the trophies under U.S. law. While some argue this is just a small number of trophies, it encourages hunters to continue killing protected species in other countries, store the trophies in warehouses, and simply wait for their allies in Congress to get them a waiver on the imports. It sets a dangerous precedent, and encourages more killing of threatened species and protected marine mammals, which flies in the face of the ESA and MMPA.
 
FEDERAL LANDS: H.R. 4089 would open sensitive and primitive wilderness areas to recreational hunting and shooting activities, despite the fact that these areas have been long protected from invasive human recreational pursuits. Further, H.R. 4089 would open up national park lands to recreational hunting even though such activity is generally prohibited by law.
 
H.R. 4089 would also exempt all federal agency decisions concerning recreational hunting or shooting activities from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. No analysis of the impacts of these activities to target and non-target wildlife, habitats, or any other aspect of the environment would be permitted. These provisions of H.R. 4089 are entirely antithetical to the science-based principles of sound wildlife and federal lands management. 
 
H.R. 4089 explicitly requires federal agencies to facilitate recreational hunting opportunities on all federal lands. This will raise serious safety concerns, and create significant conflicts with the non-consumptive activities, such as hiking and wildlife watching, of other public lands visitors who contribute significantly more to the U.S. economy than hunters. If H.R. 4089 passes, virtually every decision by federal agencies to restrict hunting and shooting activities would be subject to expensive lawsuits as to whether the decision is “necessary and reasonable.”
 
There are millions of acres of federal lands currently open to sport hunters who have the opportunity to participate in recreational hunting on many national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other federal properties. The activities mandated in H.R. 4089 are already disproportionately favored against the interests of other larger outdoor user-groups.
 
LEAD AMMUNITION: H.R. 4089 would also eliminate the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ammunition, under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already banned the use of lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting—a policy which has been in place for more than two decades yet waterfowl hunting still thrives in this country due to the many forms of non-toxic ammunition available—and the National Park Service prohibits the use of lead ammunition by agency staff and contractors, with both agencies’ decisions being based on the known deleterious effects of lead. Such decisions should be left to the discretion of federal agencies based solely on the best available science on the impacts of toxic substances such as lead.
 
This omnibus measure includes several highly controversial pieces of legislation that would severely roll back federal conservation laws and set a dangerous precedent for the management of wildlife and the environment. Please call your U.S. Representative today at (202) 225-3121, and follow up with an email, asking him or her to vote “No” on H.R. 4089.

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