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Ballot Measures

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.

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istock.com

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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The passenger pigeon's extinction story has modern implications.
iStock.com

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.

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.

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The HSUS
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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Show Me the Impact: Missouri's Puppy Mill Law, 4 Years Later

State legislatures so far this year have already passed 84 new laws on animal protection—ushering in a wide range of reforms involving felony cruelty penalties, puppy mills, shark finning, exotic pets, fox penning, the ivory trade, and more. That makes more than 1,000 new state animal protection laws on the books since 2005.

Of course, the goal is not just to have new laws on the books, but to see them properly enforced and having the desired practical impact in the field of reducing suffering and saving lives. Nearly four years since the landmark approval by Missouri voters of Proposition B—the first ballot measure campaign to set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations, battled out in the puppy mill capital of America—we can now look back and see the impact the law is having.

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The HSUS
Missouri's Prop B set standards for puppy mills.

Although the Missouri legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon weakened some of the key elements of the voter-approved measure before it even had a chance to take effect, what remained intact still makes Missouri’s law one of the strongest anti-puppy mill statutes in the nation. Josh Benson of the Columbia Missourian has authored a remarkable three-part series on commercial dog breeding in Missouri and reports on the impact the new standards have had on dogs confined in puppy mills.

Benson reports in Part 1 that since the statute became law, more than 1,300 dogs have been rescued, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for Prosecution, and more than $25,000 in civil fines were assessed and nine licenses revoked, ranging in length from three to 10 years. He notes, “By contrast, in the 24 months before the law took effect, 10 businesses or individuals were referred to state officials for violating Missouri's animal welfare laws. No civil fines were assessed in those cases.”

Importantly, due to the legislation, “Since 2010, the number of commercial breeders licensed with Missouri's Animal Care Program has dropped from about 1,400 to just over 800, a decline of more than 40 percent, according to data obtained from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.”

Even though the new law was weakened (with input from breeders), it appears to be having the right impact. But the puppy mill apologists still oppose having any standards whatsoever. In Part 2, lobbyist Karen Strange of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said her group opposes animal welfare laws and doesn’t want regulation of breeders. That’s the kind of attitude that undercuts the entire industry because it allows the worst abusers to cut corners and get a free pass.

In Part 3, Benson quotes the animal welfare inspection reports from a breeder who ran a commercial facility in Lawrence County, comparing it to a horror story:

  • "Defendant provided her dogs with dirty, muddy, non-potable water."
  • "Defendant failed to equip her housing facilities with waste water or water drainage systems such that one 3-week-old American Eskimo puppy was observed covered in mud, shivering."
  • "Defendant failed to meet the minimum standards for sanitary flooring by failing to clean her dog pens such that feces had accumulated over time to the point where one could not tell the difference between feces and flooring."
  • "Defendant failed to provide necessary veterinary care to a female blue parti-colored Cocker Spaniel whose left eye was barely visible and oozing liquid and an 11-week-old Cocker Spaniel with a bite wound on its left side."
  • "Defendant failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a male Sheltie that was emaciated and missing most of its body hair after two months of observed infirmity."
  • "Defendant admitted she routinely relied on gunshot as a means of euthanasia. She shot the Sheltie...as a form of euthanasia because it was a 'cheaper option.'"

The breeder was fined $2,500, and her license was revoked for six years. In total, hundreds of puppy mills are now out of business, and hundreds of dogs have been rescued from a life of misery and sent on their way to good, loving homes. In 2016, when additional reforms take effect, commercial breeding operations will be required to increase the space allotments for dogs, and give them constant access to the outdoors for exercise.

That’s a positive thing, and I urge you to check out the Columbia Missourian series online. It’s a great account of the tangible progress made on this front in recent years, just one reason to be encouraged about the prospects for eliminating the worst elements of the puppy mill trade in the United States.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Missouri’s Right-to-Harm Amendment

The August 5th primary election in Missouri will ask voters there whether to approve Amendment 1, which seeks to enshrine the “right to farm” in the state constitution. It’s being pushed by the same politicians and special interests who tried to overturn a voter-approved ballot initiative in 2010 to crack down on puppy mills. They want to prevent the state’s voters from protecting dogs subjected to cruel treatment in Missouri's puppy mills or from helping animals suffering the cruelties of intensive confinement agriculture. No on 1 Logo

The opposition to Amendment 1 is being led by family farmers in the state, and a broad coalition of groups that see through this charade, including humane societies, environmental groups, food safety advocates, faith-based groups, and others. They argue that this isn't Missouri's right to farm, but China's right to farm. Amendment 1 will guarantee foreign corporations the right to own Missouri farm land and do as they see fit without any check and balance from the people or the legislature, effectively letting China and other foreign countries and companies control what happens in Missouri’s towns and counties.

Three of the state’s largest newspapers have also weighed in, and are urging Missourians to reject this boondoggle. Here’s what they had to say:

No single industry or occupation deserves constitutional immunity. It’s the legislature’s job to determine the delicate balance among the interests of farmers, consumers and communities. In putting Amendment 1 on the ballot, lawmakers sought to shirk that responsibility. Voters shouldn’t let them get away with it.—Kansas City Star, June 23, 2014

It is the fearful farm faction’s overreaction to the puppy mill reforms. They’re barking at the moon. Because it’s their right. But the rest of the state shouldn’t bark with them.—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 16, 2014

Although proponents’ literature doesn’t specify, the August amendment is a virtual "No Trespassing" sign aimed at pesky groups concerned with animal welfare, genetically modified food, use of antibiotics in livestock, etc….The undefined "production" and "practices" are an invitation to sue, which essentially will move the debate from the legislative arena, where it belongs, to the judiciary.—Jefferson City News Tribune, June 8, 2014

If you live in Missouri, please spread the word to friends and family, and ask them to vote No on Amendment 1 on August 5th. Don’t let the politicians and special interests get away with this radical and overreaching right-to-harm amendment.

 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Super PAC Forms to Promote Animal Abuse

Every day, every minute, animals are at risk somewhere, whether they’re languishing in abusive puppy mills, confined in metal cages on industrial factory farms where they can barely move an inch, or caught up in some other enterprise that puts profit over animal welfare. And as much as we’ve gained ground in our efforts to help those animals, it’s still the case that there are wealthy special interests and hard-hearted individuals trying to keep them in the crates and mills to guarantee their further suffering. They work every day to perpetuate the status quo, and even to deregulate animal use industries so that they have nothing to fear and no accountability. They want just the appearance of legal protections for animals, or no laws at all. 

Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity has reported that millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products, has formed a new Super PAC to oppose animal welfare. Lucas is perhaps the biggest pro-animal abuse money man in America. With his personal net worth of $300 million and his company’s annual revenue of $150 million, Lucas can fund a huge war chest and his new Super PAC can spend unlimited amounts on political ads in elections. 

He’s already demonstrated there's no limit to his hostility to animal welfare. In 2010, Lucas spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bankroll the opposition to Proposition B in Missouri, which voters approved to set common-sense standards for the care of dogs in large-scale puppy mills. Lucas then supported an effort in the Missouri legislature to weaken and repeal parts of the voter-approved measure, before it even had a chance to take effect. In 2012, Lucas and his group Protect the Harvest spent more than a quarter-million dollars opposing Measure 5 in North Dakota, which sought to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses. In 2013, Protect the Harvest even lobbied against a local ordinance in Crawford County, Indiana to require proper shelter of dogs and cats and another proposal in Harrison County to promote the spaying and neutering of pets to help reduce pet overpopulation.

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Missouri puppy mill dogs exposed to the elements

What kind of group defends puppy mills, fights meaningful anti-cruelty laws, and wants to deny companion animals a roof over their heads and protection from the elements? Protect the Harvest is even fighting against family farmers by pushing a new measure on the August ballot in Missouri, Amendment 1, which would prioritize the interests of foreign corporations and industrial factory farms over humane and sustainable agriculture, and prevent any future standards for the care of animals in agriculture, even for the "farming" of dogs in puppy mills.

Now, with the new Super PAC, we can expect more well-funded attacks from Lucas on animal protection efforts across the country.That’s why it’s more important than ever that the Humane Society Legislative Fund strengthen its own hand, so that it can stand up against such attacks, and expand its efforts to fortify the nation’s laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. With your help, we can continue our work to pass animal protection laws, educate the public, and elect humane candidates to office.

Please join us in fighting back against the anti-animal forces, and make a donation to HSLF today. Standing strong and standing together, we can overcome the attack by one millionaire on the animal welfare movement, the proper care of animals, and decency and mercy in society.

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. 

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