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Ballot Measures

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Incredible Scam to Kill Inedible Wolves

There is more fallout from the Michigan wolf hunt scandal, in which state legislators relied on and trafficked in exaggerated and even fabricated stories about wolf incidents as they went about authorizing a hunt on the state’s small population of wolves. Nearly two-thirds of all wolf incidents in the Upper Peninsula occurred on a single farm, where the individual farmer baited wolves with cattle and deer carcasses. As John Barnes of MLive.com reported yesterday, that farmer, John Koski, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of neglecting the guard donkeys provided to him by the state and funded by Michigan taxpayers. Two of the donkeys starved to death and a third was removed due to neglect.

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Photo of wolves playing by John Hyde

As Barnes noted, “Koski received nearly $33,000 in cattle-loss compensation from the state. Taxpayers also footed the bill for more than $200,000 in staff time and other measures to assist the farm against wolf attacks, documents obtained by MLive.com show.” So here we have one farmer who pocketed tens of thousands of dollars, refused to use the fencing provided by the state, allowed guard donkeys to starve to death, and lured wolves to his property with a free buffet of rotting corpses. This was the poster child for Michigan’s “need” for a wolf hunt.

Politicians and state officials continue to point to wolf depredation statistics in the Upper Peninsula to justify their decision to open a wolf hunting season for the first time in four decades. But if Koski’s self-inflicted wolf incidents were removed from the statewide numbers, the true picture of wolf conflicts is miniscule at best. It’s one more example of state officials cooking the case against wolves: lawmakers and DNR staff have admitted that stories they told of wolves stalking daycare centers and staring at people through glass doors were false and never happened.

After voters demanded a say on the issue, state legislators went out of their way to end-run the people, handing off the decision on wolf hunting to seven, unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission whose collective opinion was in line with the state legislature’s view. These seven individuals are political appointees, and not accountable to voters. The sole scientist on the commission proved to be the only dissenting vote against their plan to open a trophy hunting season for wolves.

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Photo by MacNeill Lyons/National Park Service/AP

It is reckless to allow trophy hunters to kill wolves from the small, still recovering population of only about 650 wolves in Michigan. Hunters aren’t targeting problem wolves, but randomly killing animals in national forests and other wilderness areas. In fact, it’s already legal to kill problem wolves in the rare instances when livestock, pets, or human safety are or may be perceived to be at risk. This system works and allows for selective control of wolves causing any problems.

Wolves are an economic and ecological boon to the state, promoting tourism to the Upper Peninsula and checking the growth of abundant deer populations. Wolves help maintain a healthy deer population and cull weak and sick animals, preventing the spread of dangerous diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease. Wolves also lower the risk of deer-auto collisions and depredations on crops. This can save humans lives and tens of millions of dollars for the state.

Responsible hunters eat what they kill, and because wolves are inedible, most hunters have no interest in killing them. Responsible hunters also don’t go for the use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves—and all of that may be in store if the Natural Resources Commission decides to allow these cruel methods.

Koski’s plea agreement provides one more example of why Michigan’s wolf hunt is based on a pack of lies. The politicians and state officials apparently cannot be trusted, but the voters can. Join Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to help set things right and stop this abuse of power.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wolf Delisting Not Based on “Best Available Science”

In every region of the country where federal protections for wolves have been lifted, the states have moved quickly to open sport hunting seasons. From the Northern Rockies to the Great Lakes, trophy hunters and trappers have killed more than 2,000 wolves, often by using cruel and indiscriminate steel-jawed leghold traps.  In Wisconsin, the states even allow dogs to chase down by packs of hounds, in what amounts to wolf-dog fighting.

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Gray wolf pups
Photo by Radius Images/Alamy

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist wolves in the remainder of the lower 48 states (with the exception of about 75 wild Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico) would compound the problem and further put this keystone species in peril. Fortunately, on Friday, an independent, peer-review panel gave a thumbs-down to the proposal, unanimously concluding that it “does not currently represent the ‘best available science.’”

The agency was right to convene an independent panel of distinguished experts in wolf genetics, to debate the question of whether enough was known to take protected status away from wolves throughout most their range. More than one million people have submitted comments on the proposal, and the public has a strong interest in wolf management. The scientists disagreed with the government’s idea of a separate “eastern wolf” population in the Midwest and Northeast, which would have made wolf recovery in those states unnecessary; one of the conservation geneticists said the agency’s “driving goal seemed to be to identify the eastern wolf as a separate species, and to use that taxonomic revision to delist the gray wolf.”

Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw the current delisting proposal in light of the peer-review panel’s findings. We hope the agency will also rescind its December 2011 rule delisting wolves in the Great Lakes region, which was based on the exact same dubious taxonomic claims criticized by the peer-review panel.

The executive branch should adhere to the best science on this issue, and not allow politics to drive the decision-making to transfer authority to states with dangerous and regressive wolf management policies. Instead of hoping for the best from a patchwork of state authorities subject to varying degrees of political power exerted by ranching and hunting interests, the federal government should be driving the nation toward full recovery of wolves.  The last thing wolves need is a further expansion of reckless and inhumane and ecologically detrimental hunting and trapping programs.

In Michigan, where wolves have already been delisted, the legislature made an end-run around the voters and circumvented a pending ballot measure to rush through the first hunting season in which 23 wolves were killed this winter. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is gathering signatures to place a second measure on the ballot, to restore the rights of Michigan voters to have a say on wildlife policy, and has just a few weeks left before the signature deadline. If you live in Michigan, or live outside the state and would like to support that effort, please visit KeepWolvesProtected.com

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Egg Lawsuit is All Cracked Up

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court challenging California’s law requiring that eggs sold in the Golden State come from hens that can turn around and stretch their wings. It seems that Koster—at the cost of state taxpayers—is trying to force Missouri’s sub-standard products on California consumers, even though the California legislature has declared such products to be repugnant to the values of its citizens and a threat to public health.  It’s a shameless sop to Big Agribusiness on Koster’s part.

States have long had the right to pass laws protecting the moral views, health and safety of their own residents. Whether it’s setting requirements for the sale of fire-proof cigarettes, the testing of livestock infected with brucellosis or tuberculosis, firewood infested with termites, or eggs from hens confined in cruel, barren battery cages that are more likely to carry Salmonella. Koster’s suit is a courtroom resurrection of the failed King amendment, and if successful, could threaten state laws across the country dealing with animal cruelty, agriculture and food safety—including his own state’s laws on the labeling of seeds and weeds, the sale of adulterated commercial feed, the health of hogs and milk products entering the state, and labeling and container sterilization for the sale of alcohol.

Koster’s gambit is also the latest in a series of lawsuits trying to roll back California’s basic standards for the humane treatment of farm animals, rather than respect California consumers’ right to determine what they want. Opponents of Prop 2 in California have already lost three challenges to the law, with one federal court stating that it “does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo” to apply the standards. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected a very similar challenge to California’s ban on the sale of foie gras from force-fed birds, holding that it was well within the state’s broad authority to enact humane laws and prevent animal cruelty.

When California’s legislature passed the law now being challenged, it explained in the findings, “According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Production, food animals that are treated well and provided with at least minimum accommodation of their natural behaviors and physical needs are healthier and safer for human consumption.” Iowa, the largest egg producing state, was home to a 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. There have been nearly 20 studies published in recent years comparing caged and cage-free egg operations, and almost all found significantly higher rates of Salmonella in the caged facilities.

Why should California be forced to buy products that are unsafe and inhumane? Missouri producers can and should sell into California, as long as they adhere to reasonable production standards that are consistent with California’s law, in this case designed to protect its citizens’ objection to needless animal cruelty and to protect the health and safety of the state’s consumers. California’s production standard  is workable for farmers, and it’s time for producers in Missouri and elsewhere to improve their operations and move the economy forward rather than continuously try to slow it down with court challenges.

If Koster doesn’t like differing state laws on egg production, the answer is not a race to the bottom: A more reasonable and rational approach is to pass the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, S. 820 and H.R. 1731, to phase in, over an ample time period, a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of laying hens. The egg industry wants to move away from extreme confinement practices, and needs federal legislation to do that in an orderly way. We hope Koster will join us, and the U.S. egg industry, in lobbying Congress to pass the bill. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The 2013 Congressional Year in Review for Animals

Congress returns to Washington today to convene the second session of the 113th Congress, and it’s a good time to take stock of what was achieved in 2013 and the pathway for animals in the New Year. In terms of general lawmaking, the 113th Congress has been known for inaction and partisan gridlock. It passed fewer laws in its first year—65—than any single session on record. Yet despite the dysfunction in Washington, we’ve made real progress on key animal protection issues.

During the first year of the session, we already had one major bill enacted that facilitates the retirement of hundreds of chimps from barren laboratories to natural sanctuaries, and laid substantial groundwork on a number of other issues—such as protecting horses from "soring" cruelty, doping, and slaughter, and fortifying the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting—which are teed up for action in 2014. As we look back on 2013 and head into the second part of the two-year Congress, we’re poised for significant gains on several priorities.
 
ChimpChimpanzee Sanctuary:  A bill that made it over the finish line already in 2013 will help chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages. We celebrated the decision by the National Institutes of Health to retire about 90 percent of the government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system with a unique public-private partnership, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to the system. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November, which not only jeopardized the retirement of the government-owned chimpanzees in labs today who are slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimpanzees already living at the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than keeping chimpanzees in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House of Representatives just days earlier. S. 252 contains provisions amending the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., led this effort.  
 
King Amendment:  As a House-Senate conference committee finalizes its negotiations on the Farm Bill, we await resolution on the destructive provision that was folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642. No similar language is in the Senate Farm Bill, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has led the charge in the Senate to keep this out of the final bill. Opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote on an amendment led by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., to strike it during House floor debate. The King amendment could negate most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It aims to block state laws protecting farm animals and could also preempt laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. A broad coalition of 89 organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, religious, and other concerns jointly signed a letter calling for the King Amendment—and any related language—to be kept out of final House-Senate legislation. An even broader list of more than 500 groups, officials, newspapers, and citizens have publicly stated their opposition, including letters by a bipartisan set of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives—led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Schrader, and Gary Peters, D-Mich.—as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures, County Executives of America, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Mississippi and Arkansas Attorneys General, Iowa Farmers Union, Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, the Tulsa World, the Denver Post, and the Washington Post. The House-Senate conferees certainly should not include this intensely controversial provision or anything like it if they want to complete action on the Farm Bill early in 2014 as planned.
 
AnimalfightingAnimal Fighting:  Both the House and Senate Farm Bills include provisions to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the free-standing animal fighting spectator bill, S. 666/H.R. 366, led 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.—which enjoys the bipartisan support of 262 cosponsors combined in the Senate and House—was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment offered by Rep. McGovern during committee with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. We are hopeful that the animal fighting provision will be part of the final House-Senate package that may be done in January. This legislation is widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and it would cost taxpayers nothing, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled last year. Forty-nine states already have penalties for animal fighting spectators, but we need to sync up the federal and state laws since many animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.
 
Horse Slaughter:  The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills include identical language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, language added during committee markup in both chambers at the behest of Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The horse slaughter defund provision, requested for the first time by the agency itself in the president’s budget, would reinstate a prohibition that had been in place from 2007 to 2011. It is urgently needed, as some companies are about to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. 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. The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants open here. Moreover, horse slaughter is cruel and cannot be made humane, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Horses are shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. Horses are skittish by nature due to their heightened fight-or-flight response, and the methods used to slaughter them rarely result in quick, painless deaths; they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. 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. We’re pressing to have the horse slaughter provision sustained in the omnibus bill that Congress plans to act on by January 15 to avoid another government shutdown, and ultimately seeking to pass the free-standing Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541/H.R. 1094, sponsored by Sens. Landrieu and Graham and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to provide a more lasting and comprehensive solution.   
 
Animal Welfare Funding:  The House Agriculture Appropriations bill would restore funds cut last year in some accounts, and the Senate bill would actually provide substantial increases requested in the president’s budget for USDA to enforce and implement key animal-related laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. Final resolution is expected by January 15 as part of the omnibus bill, and we hope the Senate’s higher figures will prevail. Over the past several years, Congress has recognized the need to boost funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and it has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are 136 inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, more than doubled from just 60 in the 1990s. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 34 Senators and 164 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds, and the subcommittee leadership—Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif.—responded to their colleagues’ appeals.
 
Horse soringHorse Soring:  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) ActH.R. 1518/S. 1406, championed by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va.—has gained major momentum with the bipartisan support of almost 300 cosponsors in the House and Senate, and a successful hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation boasts a lengthy list of endorsements, including the American Horse Council and 48 other national and state horse groups; the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and veterinary medical associations in all 50 states; many animal protection groups; and others. The PAST Act amends an existing federal law, the Horse Protection Act of 1970, to better rein in the cruel practice of “soring”—in which unscrupulous trainers hurt Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to make it painful for them to step down, so they will display an extreme high-stepping gait that wins prizes 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, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, attaching excessively “weighted” shoes, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. More than 40 years ago, Congress tried to stop this abuse, but the Horse Protection Act is too weak, and rampant soring continues, according to a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General that recommended reforms incorporated in the PAST Act. This legislation is not expected to add costs to the federal government; it will simply enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are already breaking federal law, committing heinous cruelty, cheating to win unfair advantage at horse shows, and profiting from it. That subset of the show horse world doesn’t want Congress to alter the status quo. But many others in the show horse world are strongly advocating the PAST Act to deal with morally repugnant behavior that is giving their industry a major black eye, hurting attendance at shows, driving away corporate sponsors, and driving down horse sale prices.
 
Horse Racing:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee also held a compelling hearing on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, S. 973/H.R. 2012, led by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle testified in favor of the legislation. A powerful New York Times exposé examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011, reporting that minimal oversight, inconsistent regulations, and rampant doping of horses has led to a stunning “average of 24 horse deaths on racetracks around the country every week.” According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Racing Board, “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.” This is tragic for the horses and also often the jockeys, who can suffer serious injuries, paralysis, or death from being thrown. The legislation would ban doping of racehorses, and give the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports, the authority to oversee and enforce the new rules. Rather than having different rules with respect to medicating of horses in every state where tracks operate, there would be a consistent national policy.

 
Other Pending Animal Protection Efforts Include:

Pets

  • Puppy Mills: Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 847/S. 395 to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations by requiring that large-scale commercial dog breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year directly to consumers via the Internet or other means be licensed and inspected, as breeders who sell to pet stores already are; and to require that breeding dogs at commercial facilities be allowed to exercise daily. The broad bipartisan support for this legislation helped spur the USDA to finalize regulations in September to extend federal oversight to thousands of puppy mills that do business online.
  • Pets on Trains: Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced H.R. 2066/S. 1710 to require Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to transport cats and dogs on certain Amtrak trains.
  • Veterans Dog Training Therapy: Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 183 to create a pilot program for training dogs, including shelter dogs, as a form of therapy to help treat combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health conditions.
  • Wounded Warrior Service Dogs: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 2847 to require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to jointly establish a K-9 Companion Corps Program that will award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist them in the planning, designing, establishing, and operating of programs that provide assistance dogs to covered military members and veterans.  
  • National Animal Rescue Day/Winslow’s Day: Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., introduced H. Res. 63 to create awareness for animal rescue programs throughout the year and address the challenge of overpopulation through continued spaying and neutering.
  • Euthanasia Methods at Shelters: Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., introduced H. Res. 208/H. Res. 433, respectively, to voice opposition to the use of inhumane and dangerous gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals and express support for state laws that require the use of more humane euthanasia methods.


Equine

  • Horse Transport:  Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., introduced S. 1459 to prohibit and establish penalties for the transport of horses in interstate transportation in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another (except a vehicle operated exclusively on rail or rails).
  • Horse Therapy: Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced H.R. 1705 to expand the Department of  Defense managed health care program for military beneficiaries to include coverage of rehabilitative therapeutic exercises that utilize horses.


Farm Animals

  • Eggs/Hen Housing: Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1731/S. 820 to provide a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, phased in over a period of 15-16 years, that will significantly improve animal welfare and provide a stable future for egg farmers.
  • Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics: Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1150/S. 1256 to phase out the routine non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals—a common practice to promote growth and compensate for overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions on factory farms—in order to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating sick people and animals.
  • Antimicrobial Data Collection: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., introduced S. 895/H.R. 820 to require the Food and Drug Administration to improve both the collection and public reporting of information on how antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs are used in food animal production.


Animals in Research

  • Alternatives Development in Research and Testing:  Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, included report language for the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to prioritize federal funding for non-animal methods in the BRAIN initiative and through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
  • Alternatives to Live Animal Use in Military Training: Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act, H.R. 3172/S. 1550, to require the Secretary of Defense to employ alternative methods that are more effective and humane than live animal use for training members of the Armed Forces in the treatment of severe injuries.
  • Class B Dealers: Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., introduced the Pet Safety and Protection Act, H.R. 2224, to prohibit the use in research of dogs and cats obtained through Class B dealers from random sources such as pet theft and free-to-good home ads.


Wildlife

  • Shark Finning: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., introduced H. Res. 285 to raise awareness of the dangers of shark finning and express the view of Congress that, in order to even the playing field for U.S. fishermen and prevent the overfishing of sharks on a global scale, the U.S. should end the importation of shark fins from foreign fisheries that practice shark finning. These lawmakers, with Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., mobilized letters co-signed by more than 70 representatives and senators calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to reverse its interpretation of the Shark Conservation Act that may preempt state laws barring the trade in shark fin products. The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also pressed the agency to rethink its position.
  • Captive Primates: Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 2856/S. 1463 to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade. This would extend to dangerous primates such as chimpanzees, who can be easily purchased over the Internet and from out-of-state dealers, the protections afforded by Congress to big cats in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act of 2003.
  • Primate Imports for Sanctuary: Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced H.R. 3556 to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a rule allowing the importation of primates for the purpose of placement of abused, injured, or abandoned primates in certified animal sanctuaries.
  • Big Cats and Public Safety: Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced H.R. 1998/S. 1381 to better address the exotic pet trade by limiting the breeding of lions, tigers, and other big cats to accredited zoos, and preventing unqualified individuals and facilities from possessing these dangerous predators, who suffer from being kept in abusive and unsafe conditions and threaten public safety.
  • Corolla Wild Horses: Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced H.R. 126 to direct the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement to provide for management of the free-roaming wild horses in and around the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed the House by voice vote on June 3, and is pending in the Senate.
  • Wildlife Services: Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., called on the USDA Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit of the agency’s Wildlife Services lethal predator control program, including its use of poisoning and aerial gunning. The OIG is proceeding with an audit in 2014, which could lead to important recommendations to reform this outdated and mismanaged program. Also, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 2074 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to submit to Congress, and make available to the public on the Internet, a report on the animals killed under the Wildlife Services program.
  • Refuge from Cruel Trapping: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 3513 to end the use of body-gripping traps in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  • Dangerous Constrictor Snakes: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jim Moran, D-Va., urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move swiftly to add five species of dangerous constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species whose trade is banned under the Lacey Act. All five species were identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing a medium or high risk of establishing breeding populations in the United States, jeopardizing native wildlife and pets, as well as human health and safety.


Veterinary Medicine

  • Veterinary Medicine Mobility: Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Angus King, I-Maine, introduced H.R. 1528/S. 950 to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense controlled substances outside of their registered locations to help ensure that proper care can be provided to patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, farm animals, and wildlife.
  • Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment: Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., introduced H.R. 1125/S. 553 to amend the Internal Revenue Code to exclude from gross income payments under the federal veterinary medicine loan repayment program or any other state loan repayment or forgiveness program that is intended to provide for increased access to veterinary services in underserved areas.


In sum, the mid-point of a two-year Congress is usually a work in progress. As we take stock of 2013, we celebrate the enactment of the chimpanzee legislation, note the progress that has been made on top-tier issues like animal fighting and horse soring, and redouble our commitment to finish the job for the wide range of pressing priorities that are poised for action. The animals are counting on us, and despite the general dysfunction in Washington, there is tremendous potential on many fronts for action in 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 the Year of Chimps and Horses in Congress

The 113th Congress has had the lowest output, in terms of general lawmaking, since 1947. Yet despite the general dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington, we’ve made real progress on our key issues. During the first year of the session, we already had one major bill enacted that facilitates the retirement of hundreds of chimps from barren laboratories to natural sanctuaries, and laid substantial groundwork on a number of other issues, particularly a range of reforms to protect horses from cruelty, doping, and slaughter. As we wind down 2013 and head into the second part of the two-year Congress, we’re poised for significant gains on several priorities.
 
ChimpChimpanzee Sanctuary: A bill that made it over the finish line already in 2013 will help chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages. We celebrated the decision earlier this year by the National Institutes of Health to retire about 90 percent of the government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system with a unique public-private partnership, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to the system. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November, which not only jeopardized the retirement of the government-owned chimpanzees in labs today who are slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimpanzees already living at the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than keeping chimpanzees in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House of Representatives just days earlier. S. 252 contains provisions amending the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer.
 
King Amendment: As a House-Senate conference committee finalizes its negotiations on the Farm Bill, we await resolution on the destructive provision that was folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642. No similar language is in the Senate Farm Bill, and opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote to strike it during House floor debate. The King amendment could negate most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It aims to block state laws protecting farm animals and could also preempt laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. A broad coalition of 89 organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, religious, and other concerns jointly signed a letter calling for the King Amendment—and any related language—to be kept out of final House-Senate legislation. An even broader list of more than 500 groups, officials, newspapers, and citizens have publicly stated their opposition, including letters by a bipartisan set of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, County Executives of America, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Mississippi and Arkansas Attorneys General, Iowa Farmers Union, Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post. The House-Senate conferees certainly should not include this intensely controversial provision or anything like it if they want to complete action on the Farm Bill early in 2014 as planned.
 
AnimalfightingAnimal Fighting: Both the House and Senate Farm Bills include provisions to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the free-standing animal fighting spectator bill—which enjoys the bipartisan support of 262 cosponsors combined in the Senate and House—was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment during committee with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. We are hopeful that the animal fighting provision will be part of the final House-Senate package that may be done in January. This legislation is widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and it would cost taxpayers nothing, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled last year. Forty-nine states already have penalties for animal fighting spectators, but we need to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.
 
Horse Slaughter: The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills include identical language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, language added during committee markup in both chambers. This provision, requested for the first time by the agency itself in the president’s budget, would reinstate a prohibition that had been in place from 2007 to 2011. It is urgently needed, as some companies are about to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. 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. The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants open here. Moreover, horse slaughter is cruel and cannot be made humane, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Horses are shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. Horses are skittish by nature due to their heightened fight-or-flight response, and the methods used to slaughter them rarely result in quick, painless deaths; they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. 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. We’re pressing to have the horse slaughter provision sustained in the omnibus bill that Congress plans to act on by January 15 to avoid another government shutdown.  
 
Animal Welfare Funding:  The House Agriculture Appropriations bill would restore funds cut last year in some accounts, and the Senate bill would actually provide substantial increases requested in the president’s budget for USDA to enforce and implement key animal-related laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. Final resolution is expected by January 15 as part of the omnibus bill, and we hope the Senate’s higher figures will prevail. We’ve consistently boosted funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and it has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are 136 inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, more than doubled from just 60 in the 1990s.
 
HorseHorse Soring:  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act has gained major momentum with the bipartisan support of almost 300 cosponsors in the House and Senate, and a successful hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation boasts a lengthy list of endorsements, including the American Horse Council and 48 other national and state horse groups; the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and veterinary medical associations in all 50 states; many animal protection groups; and others. The PAST Act amends an existing federal law, the Horse Protection Act of 1970, to better rein in the cruel practice of “soring”—in which unscrupulous trainers hurt Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to make it painful for them to step down, so they will display an extreme high-stepping gait that wins prizes 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, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. More than 40 years ago, Congress tried to stop this abuse, but the Horse Protection Act is too weak, and rampant soring continues, according to a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General that recommended reforms incorporated in the PAST Act. This legislation is not expected to add costs to the federal government; it will simply enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are already breaking federal law, committing heinous cruelty, cheating to win unfair advantage at horse shows, and profiting from it. That subset of the show horse world doesn’t want Congress to alter the status quo. But many others in the show horse world are strongly advocating the PAST Act to deal with morally repugnant behavior that is giving their industry a major black eye, hurting attendance at shows, driving away corporate sponsors, and driving down horse sale prices.
 
Horse Racing:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee also held a compelling hearing on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle testified in favor of the legislation. A powerful New York Times exposé examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011, reporting that minimal oversight, inconsistent regulations, and rampant doping of horses has led to a stunning “average of 24 horse deaths on racetracks around the country every week.” According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Racing Board, “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.” This is tragic for the horses and also often the jockeys, who can suffer serious injuries, paralysis, or death from being thrown. The legislation would ban doping of racehorses, and give the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports, the authority to oversee and enforce the new rules. Rather than having different rules with respect to medicating of horses in every state where tracks operate, there would be a consistent national policy.
 
Taking stock at the mid-point of the 113th Congress, we celebrate the enactment of the chimpanzee legislation, and redouble our commitment to finish the job for these other pressing priorities that are poised for action. The animals are counting on us, and despite the general dysfunction in Washington, there is tremendous potential on many fronts. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cruelty to Donkeys, Fleecing of Taxpayers

There is more fallout today from the Michigan wolf hunt scandal, in which lawmakers and state officials spread fabricated stories about wolf incidents, even as most of the depredation on livestock occurred at one farm that left cattle carcasses out to attract wolves. That farmer has now been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly allowing two “guard donkeys,” paid for by taxpayers, to starve to death.

According to an MLive story by reporter John Barnes published today, Upper Peninsula farmer John Koski “is accused of neglecting two donkeys provided by the state that died. A third was removed from the farm because of ill health, officials said. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.”

WolfAdditionally, the report notes, “Koski has collected nearly $33,000 in cattle-loss compensation from the state for that same period, more than all other farmers combined. The donkeys cost an additional $1,650 total. A $1,316 electric fence provided by the state to protect cows while calving also disappeared...”

State officials have apologized for their false statements that led to the opening of the wolf hunt, and they acknowledge that Koski’s poor management practices have accounted for more than 60 percent of all wolf depredation of livestock in Michigan. Yet they stubbornly continue to argue that the wolf hunt should continue—with at least 20 wolves already killed this year—and they continue to try to carry off an end-run around Michigan voters just to get their way.

There are fewer than 700 wolves in Michigan, and they are just beginning to recover from the brink of extinction. It’s already legal to kill problem wolves in the rare instances when livestock or pets are threatened. And most of the wolf incidents—those not made up out of whole cloth—have occurred on a single property, where the negligent owner pocketed tens of thousands of dollars, refused to use fencing provided by the state, left dead cattle unburied to draw the predators to a free meal, and now has been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly starving animals to death.

The state legislature made a mistake in authorizing this cruel and unnecessary wolf hunt. And when more than 250,000 Michigan voters signed petitions to put the wolf hunting issue on the ballot, the legislature passed a second law to override the people. They wrongly gave the power to seven, unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission, who are political appointees and not experts. They are not accountable to the voters and their decisions cannot be challenged.

The cruelty charges filed against Koski provide one more example of why Michigan’s wolf hunt is based on a pack of lies. The politicians and state officials apparently cannot be trusted, but the voters can. Join Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to help set things right and stop this abuse of power.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Top 13 in ’13: State Animal Protection Laws

It’s been a remarkable year of policymaking at the state level, with legislatures so far passing 107 new animal protection measures. A handful of states are still in session and the number may climb, but in total, it makes more than 800 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research, and farm animals. That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 13 state victories for animals in 2013.

LEAD AMMO: California adopted the first statewide requirement for lead-free ammunition when shooting animals. Millions of animals are poisoned by lead left behind by hunters, and more than 130 species are affected. We hope this gain provides inspiration to other states and to federal agencies to make the switch to non-lead ammunition. Lead has been prohibited in waterfowl hunting since 1991, and it’s long past time to require the same in the case of other species.

SharkSHARK FINNING: The Atlantic Ocean states of Delaware, Maryland, and New York banned the trade in shark fin products, making a total of eight states and three U.S. territories that have taken action to reduce the demand for shark fins. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins—often cut off at sea while the animals are still alive, left to die slowly in the oceans—just for a bowl of soup.

ANIMAL CRUELTY: North Dakota became the 49th state to adopt felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals (leaving South Dakota as the only holdout). Alabama strengthened its cruelty law, by extending felony penalties to animals other than dogs and cats. Ohio upgraded its penalties for cruelty committed by kennel owners and operators. And Pennsylvania and Tennessee passed bills requiring that alleged animal abusers pay the costs of care for holding their animals until trial, so those costs are not a burden on nonprofit or municipal animal care agencies.

PuppymillPUPPY MILLS: Vermont passed legislation requiring commercial dog breeders to meet basic standards of animal care, and strengthened the state's “pet lemon law” so consumers who purchase sick puppies will have additional remedies for reimbursement for reasonable veterinary expenses. West Virginia also passed a law to crack down on puppy mills, and require licensing and inspection of large-scale commercial dog breeders that were previously unregulated.

EXOTIC PETS:  Arkansas banned future private possession of most primates—including chimpanzees, baboons and macaque monkeys—as exotic pets. All but six states now have laws on the books to prevent people from having large, powerful wild animals as pets, since it almost always turns out badly for the animals, and it can result in terrible harm to human beings.

SPAY/NEUTER: Maryland established a fund that could generate close to $1 million annually for spaying and neutering dogs and cats, with a focus on low-income residents. The new law will make competitive grants available to animal shelters and rescue groups to facilitate and promote spay/neuter services, and to help reduce pet overpopulation and drive down euthanasia rates.

ANIMAL FIGHTING:  Nevada fortified its anti-cockfighting statute, making it a felony on the first offense. Previously, under a loophole in the law, only repeat offenders could be charged with felonies, and many cockfighters viewed the anemic penalties as simply the cost of doing business. Now, 40 states have felony penalties for cockfighting, and 37 of them are for the first offense, helping to crack down on this staged animal combat and associated criminal activities.

HorseHORSE TRIPPING: Oregon and Nevada banned the cruel sport of horse tripping, where galloping horses are roped by the front legs, causing them to violently trip and fall. Supporting the measures were broad coalitions that included horse owners, veterinarians, riding groups, and mainstream rodeo fans.

GAS CHAMBERS: Texas passed a statewide ban on the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in animal shelters. Mississippi ended its use of the chambers without enacting a statute, and a number of other states are following suit.  

POACHING: Stepping up the national battle against poachers, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island passed legislation required to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. The national law enforcement network prevents wildlife violators who have lost their hunting, trapping or fishing privileges due to illegal wildlife crimes, such as poaching, in member states from circumventing those license revocations in another state.

TRAPPING: Hawaii banned the use of barbaric steel-jawed leghold traps and restricted the use of snares and other body-crushing traps in residential areas where pets fall victim and often attempt to chew off their own limbs to escape the painful devices.

CHAINING DOGS: Connecticut and Illinois put limits on the tethering of dogs outdoors during extreme weather, and Oregon restricted the time duration and length of tether for the chaining of dogs. Oregon’s law also set new standards for providing adequate shelter and bedding for dogs, an important upgrade that eliminates ambiguity and uncertainty in the existing law.

AG-GAG: Animal advocates have succeeded so far this year in preventing the passage of so-called “ag-gag” bills in all 11 states where they were introduced in 2013—Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Vermont. The legislation was written and advanced as part of an attempt to block undercover investigations by animal protection groups, mainly at factory farms. These investigations expose illegal and unethical activity at such facilities and are an important part of bringing factory farming abuses to light.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Crying Wolf

MLive.com, which reports for eight newspapers across Michigan, has released the first stories in a jarring investigative series on how state politicians used exaggerated or completely fabricated tales of wolf incidents to justify stripping away legal protection for wolves and opening a trophy hunting season on the state’s small population of wolves. It shows government at its worst, using half-truths, falsehoods, and distortion to make policy decisions, and trying to cover up the mistakes by denying Michigan voters the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

WolfWhen Upper Peninsula lawmakers pushed Congress in 2011 to remove wolves from protected status under the Endangered Species Act, the state legislature passed a resolution stating, “Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

As MLive reported, however, “there were no children in the backyard. There was a single wolf, not three. No wolves were shot there, on that day or any day….It is the story of how Michigan lawmakers embraced an account that never happened, and it is the story of how they sent it to Congress for consideration—opening the door for a hunt.”

It’s not the only time state officials have wildly exaggerated the facts about wolves. MLive noted:

Adam Bump, the state’s fur bearer specialist, allows he misspoke when he gave an interview to Michigan Radio that was broadcast in May.

“You have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass door while they're pounding on it exhibiting no fear,” Bump told the NPR affiliate.

That did not happen, he concedes.

When it comes to wolf predation of livestock, the alleged rationale for a wolf hunt, that justification quickly unravels. From the same report by MLive:

And while attacks on livestock are cited as a reason to reduce wolf numbers, records show one farmer accounted for more cattle killed and injured than all other farmers in the years the DNR reviewed.

The farmer left dead cattle in the field for days, if not longer, a violation of the law and a smorgasbord that attracts wolves. He was given an electric fence by the state. The fence disappeared. He was also given three “guard mules.”

Two died. The other had to be removed in January because it was in such poor condition.

In wolf circles, those problems are known. Lesser known is that they persist. Wildlife officers again in May found dead cattle on his farm, MLive learned under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Visiting reporters in October also saw a months-old cow carcass in an open barn.

The fact is, Michigan legislators lobbied the federal government to take away wolves' protection under the Endangered Species Act, as a prelude to their own legislative action to execute a state wolf hunting program. Specifically, once those pesky federal protections were out of the way, they passed a state bill during the lame-duck session to make the wolf a game species, again using exaggerated numbers about wolf depredation from one farm with reckless management practices. When Michigan voters collected more than 250,000 signatures to correct this mistake and place the wolf hunting law on the statewide ballot, the legislature passed a second law to give the power to the unelected, politically appointed Natural Resources Commission, making an end run around the voters since the commission’s decisions are not subject to any voter referendum.

There are only 658 wolves in Michigan, down from 687 just two years ago. When there are legitimate conflicts, it’s already legal to kill wolves that are threatening livestock or public safety. There’s no reason to shoot wolves at random in a trophy hunting season—especially as nearly all of the alleged reasons that have been put forth have proven to be false. Independent wolf experts, those not working for the state, argue that a wolf hunt is ill-conceived.

Given the shocking findings of this investigative report, Michigan officials should call off the first wolf hunting season which is scheduled to begin on November 15, and give the state’s voters the opportunity to decide on this issue next November. It’s time to stop trusting the scare tactics, myths, and downright fiction about wolves, and start trusting the voters. Visit KeepWolvesProtected.com to find out how you can help.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Howling Shame

Today marks the first day of Wisconsin’s second consecutive wolf hunting and trapping season in decades. The first wolf was killed this morning after suffering in a steel-jawed leghold trap. It’s another round of killing in what has been a pogrom against wolves in the areas they’ve reclaimed—with hundreds killed in the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stripped wolves of their federal protections and turned management of their populations over to states with hostile anti-wolf policies.

WolfIn Wisconsin, despite opposition from scientists, humane groups and Native American tribes, the state established a quota of 251 wolves to be killed this year. In fact, a recent public opinion poll showed that Wisconsin residents opposed a wolf hunt by an 8 to 1 margin. The state’s wolf population has declined from a high of 880 to 809 over the past two years, and the sport hunting and trapping quota of 251 wolves does not include those that will be killed for depredation purposes (76 last year), or those killed by illegal poaching and car collisions.

Cumulatively, this could result in more than 40 percent of Wisconsin’s fragile, recovering wolf population perishing this season. After decades of work and millions of dollars spent to bring the wolf back from the brink of extinction, the species is now at risk from the same practices that caused the decline in the first place. Worst of all, if breeding wolves are killed at random, packs will disband, which has happened in Yellowstone National Park. Because of these significant concerns, wildlife protection groups, including The Humane Society of the United States, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to restore federal protection for Great Lakes wolves.

Today through February, Wisconsin’s iconic wolves will be left to suffer in traps and killed with firearms, crossbows and bow and arrows with disregard for science-based concerns about the species’ sustained conservation. Wolf hunters can use electronic predator calls and shoot wolves over bait. Most unsettling, and rightfully the subject of opposition and legal challenges from Wisconsin animal shelters and respected animal behaviorists, is the use of packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves this season. A Wisconsin veterinarian has shared gruesome details of hunting dogs being brought to his clinic ripped to pieces and dying on the surgery table and his concerns for dogs involved wolf altercations. The state rightly bans dogfighting, but has essentially sanctioned wolf-dog fighting. 

These are the same threats we expect wolves to face in other states that have rushed to open hunting and trapping seasons. In the neighboring state of Michigan, where the wolf population has also declined from 687 to 658 animals in the last two years, the first hunting season is set to open on November 15. The politicians in Wisconsin and other states where reckless wolf hunts are taking place may not be listening to their citizens, but in Michigan, the voters have a unique opportunity to make things right. By gathering enough signatures and placing a referendum on the statewide ballot, all Michigan voters can have a say in whether to keep wolves protected or allow their hunting as a game species—and can send a message to other states that people don’t support a renewed wolf slaughter. If you live in Michigan, we need your help collecting signatures—it could not be more urgent for wolves. And if you care about wolves, please support our efforts to be vigilant and energetic in their defense wherever and whenever they come under threat.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

King Amendment Goes to the Dogs

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown, the to-do list for Congress only gets longer. During the coming weeks, we will hear a lot of talk about the debt ceiling, efforts to reopen the government and debate about cutting various federal programs. The Farm Bill is another major piece of legislation still awaiting congressional action, and there has been some talk about rolling the massive agriculture policy vehicle into a “grand bargain” that reopens the government and deals with the debt ceiling.

PuppymillThis should be a concern for animal advocates, and much would depend on which version of the Farm Bill is folded into a larger must-pass package. Both the House and the Senate versions of the bill include provisions fortifying the anti-animal fighting statute and making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to a staged animal fight. The House version, however, also contains a radical and overreaching amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that could nullify any state or local law that sets standards for agricultural production.

The King amendment has come under fire from nearly 100 organizations, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of State Fire Marshalls. All of these organizations recognize a dangerous federal power grab when they see one.

The most obvious impacts of the King amendment are aimed at farm animal protection laws that several states have passed over the last decade, setting basic standards of care for animals on factory farms, prohibiting inhumane practices such as extreme confinement and force-feeding. But the King amendment is so vague and broad, that it could be applied to any state or local law dealing with an agricultural product—from catfish to tobacco—and could even roll back laws designed to protect dogs in large-scale, commercial puppy mills.

In five states, for example, dogs are considered “livestock,” and thus the safety-net of laws and regulations protecting breeding dogs and puppies could be quashed by the King amendment’s mandate that any “agricultural product” be immune from all state regulation. If the King amendment is enacted, basic regulations ensuring that dogs receive adequate housing and protection from the elements, clean water and food, and veterinary care could be in jeopardy in Georgia, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon.

In another ten states that classify dogs as livestock for certain purposes, it would be up to the courts to decide whether the King amendment wipes out humane protections against abusive puppy mills. At the very least, humane law enforcement efforts in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming would be severely chilled by the threat of federal preemption under King, and may face long, expensive legal battles in the courts—further hampering efforts to crack down on animal cruelty.

And the damage won’t stop there. Another 21 states have so-called “puppy lemon laws” that place conditions on the sale of dogs to consumers, not only protecting families who purchase sick dogs, but also using market forces to encourage humane treatment and better conditions by commercial dog sellers. But under the extreme King amendment, these types of consumer regulations could be wiped out as well because they place a burden on interstate commerce.

Every day, we find new and startling ways the King amendment could decimate decades of humane, consumer protection, environmental conservation, public safety, and other important state laws and regulations. As the government shutdown continues to march forward, one thing Republicans and  Democrats should be able to agree on is that rolling back state health and safety regulations to pre-20th century levels is no way to run a government.

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