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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Key House committee passes bills cracking down on trophy hunting, big cat captivity, and shark fin trade

A House committee today approved four key pieces of animal protection and conservation legislation to alleviate threats faced by some of the world’s most iconic and at-risk species, including a bill that would end harmful public contact activities with big cats, another that would crack down on the shark fin trade in the United States, one that would continue a critical conservation funding source, and a bill that would restrict the import of the body parts of endangered and threatened large animals killed overseas by trophy hunters.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

We applaud lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who voted in favor of these bills, showing how deeply Americans care about ending our country’s role in some of the worst wildlife abuses faced by animals here in the United States and globally.

The bills, detailed below, will next move to the full House floor for a vote.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act: This bill would ban the possession of big cat species by unlicensed individuals and entities and prohibit their use in businesses that exploit them by forcing them to participate in tourist activities. In the United States, many big cats—such as lions and tigers—are owned by unqualified individuals at roadside exhibits and shoddy circuses as well as by pet owners. As past HSUS investigations have revealed, the animals are bred indiscriminately and often spend their lives in inhumane, unregulated, abusive conditions. They are typically used for tourist opportunities like selfies and cub petting, and are discarded (even slaughtered for parts) after they grow big. As we have seen only too often, wild animals held in these types of situations often escape, creating a major safety hazard for citizens and for local law enforcement officials who are not typically trained to manage big cat escapes.

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act: This bill would prohibit the import, export, trade, distribution, and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades because of this trade. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia but the sharks suffer terribly: fishermen slice off their fins and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. It is important we end the trade in shark fins here because the United States is an end market and transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act: This bill would substantially restrict the import and hunting of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It’s named after the beloved African lion Cecil, who was shot by an American trophy hunter in 2015, sparking global outrage. Trophy hunting is exacerbating population declines of key species who already face extinction and many other threats besides, including poaching and habitat loss. This practice of killing wild and at-risk animals for bragging rights is hurting local economies in African countries by crippling their tourism industries and other opportunities for economic development. We also know that trophy hunting fuels other evils, like corruption and wildlife trafficking, and it’s time the United States cracked down on it.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This bill extends the sale of the Save Vanishing Species Semipostal Stamp for as long as copies remain. This congressionally-created semipostal stamp enables consumers to support wildlife conservation every time they send a letter. To date, sales of the stamp have raised $5.4 million for international conservation of some of the world's most imperiled species, such as elephants, tigers, and sea turtles. Funds have supported more than 100 conservation projects in 35 countries, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Although about 50 million stamps remain in stock, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued selling them at the end of 2018 and can't resume sales until enactment of this reauthorization.

We are grateful for the leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for bringing these four bills to the committee’s attention, and we’ll be pushing for their passage on the House floor next. We want to ensure all four of these bills have a high cosponsor count before they go to the floor for a vote, so please contact your Representative today and urge them to cosponsor these important pieces of legislation.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Breaking news: USDA eliminates speed limits for killing pigs at slaughterhouses

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Slaughterhouses in the United States are already allowed to kill pigs at a lightning speed of up to 1,106 animals per hour. Under a new federal rule announced today, some of these facilities can dial up those speeds even further, with no limit whatsoever, creating an animal welfare and worker safety nightmare as never before.

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

The new inspection system created by the rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is also likely to reduce the number of federal inspectors at slaughterhouses and it requires slaughterhouse employees, instead of federal inspectors, to conduct initial sorting of live pigs. Requiring slaughterhouse employees to conduct initial sorting of live pigs will increase the risk of animal abuse and improper treatment of pigs, especially of animals who are so sick or exhausted that they can’t stand or walk.

Even under existing line speed regulations, slaughter facilities are among the most dangerous and difficult places to work in America. Employees handling animals work under immense stress at breakneck speeds, performing repetitive motions in cold, slippery conditions, using dangerous equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking workers experience injury rates nearly 2.5 times higher and illness rates almost 17 times higher than the average for all industries. Forcing workers to process the animals faster will only exacerbate these problems, while increasing the risk of contaminated pork being introduced into the U.S. food supply.

Faster line speeds also heighten the risk of inhumane incidents, such as pigs being inadequately stunned and therefore remaining conscious during slaughter—a violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

These are not changes the American public wants or supports. Consumers today increasingly want animals used for food to be treated more humanely, and when the USDA first proposed this plan, tens of thousands of you spoke out overwhelmingly against it. According to one analysis, of “84,000 public remarks made on the rule, 87 percent were either opposed or expressed negative opinions about the proposal.” Another recent poll found that 64% of the public opposes elimination of speed limits on pig slaughter lines.

Even members of Congress have pushed back against this rule, with 16 of them sending a letter to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General raising concerns about the worker safety data USDA used in developing its rule, leading to the Inspector General launching a probe. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter requesting that the Inspector General expand the investigation’s scope to include animal welfare violations and food safety concerns.

But the reason the USDA rushed to finalize the rule despite the overwhelming opposition and the ongoing Inspector General investigation is because it is kowtowing to industry interests. These are changes the meatpacking industry has sought for years so they can increase their profits, and in the current administration they have a willing ally. In a similar show of support for the meat industry, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service last year created a waiver system that allows chicken slaughterhouses to kill birds at reckless speeds of nearly three birds per second.

The USDA has a professed duty under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act to ensure that animals are treated humanely and that the food people eat is safe; and the American public has a right to know the risks that animals and people will face under this rule. By finalizing it, the USDA has failed to do its job and it has failed the American people, and we will not back down. Key members of Congress are already fighting this rule, Rep. DeLauro, along with Rep David Price, D-N.C., led an amendment to the annual Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020 to delay the implementation of the rule, and it was retained in the final bill because of the strong fight put up by groups like HSLF and the HSUS, food safety watchdogs, and labor organizations. We now need your help to encourage the Senate to adopt a similar measure, which could block the implementation of this rule.

Please urge your Senators to support all efforts to stop the USDA from implementing the rule at least until the agency addresses the recommendations in the Inspector General's report. Ask them to include language in the final FY20 appropriations bill to block the rule until the Office of the Inspector General issues its report, and to encourage the Inspector General to assess all impacts on animal welfare in addition to its review of the effects on worker safety. This rule has nothing to offer except fatter bottom lines for an industry that puts profits above people and animals, and our nation will be better off without it.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Justify’s story highlights urgent need to root out doping and self-policing from horseracing industry

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The saga of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, recently chronicled in a New York Times article, provides one of the most compelling arguments yet for reform in the horseracing industry and in particular for ending the massive leeway the industry now enjoys in policing itself in regard to the doping of animals.

According to the Times, when Justify charged across the finish line in June 2018 to win the Belmont Stakes, becoming only the second horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, he had already tested positive for a banned drug, scopolamine. The drug can act as a bronchodilator, clearing the horse’s airway and augmenting his heart rate, thereby enhancing his performance.

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Photo by Stan Rohrer/Alamy Stock Photo


What unfolded next is a study in how those in the highest power echelons of the horse racing industry bent and twisted the rules to ensure that the star equine athlete stayed in the running.

Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the test results. “Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system,” reporter Joe Drape writes.

The board also decided not to continue with its case against Justify’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert continues to deny intentionally doping Justify, even though a second test he ordered from another lab also came back positive.

There were high stakes involved. Justify went on to become only the 13th winner ever of the Triple Crown. After the Kentucky Derby, his owners had sold his breeding rights for $60 million (documents reviewed by the Times did not show any evidence of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners). 

Justify’s story illustrates just why we need reform in the horseracing industry, where those who promote the sport are also policing it, and where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

The industry is now beset by a drug crisis that has led to the premature deaths of thousands of horses over the years. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for the equine athletes and for their riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (along with dozens of groups in the racing industry and animal protection arena) support passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820 in Congress. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Paul Tonko , D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., would not only ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing, it would also remove state racing commissions from oversight of all medication regulations and enforcement. The bill would also grant independent control over rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.  Finally, it would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by USADA, an independent entity that oversees testing of U.S. athletes at the Olympics and many other sporting events.

We are also calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Justify’s drug test and an overhaul of drug testing policy to protect racehorses from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

Horseracing is at a true crossroads, and it’s time things changed for the better, especially for the equine athletes. Please contact your federal legislators today and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act and do all they can to help secure its passage. Let’s make this the year this important bill races across the finish line.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

Equine advocates gather on Capitol Hill to promote equine welfare bills

Yesterday, horse advocates from across the country came to Capitol Hill to press for passage of humane legislation at the federal level. Members of the Homes for Horses Coalition, a network of equine rescues and sanctuaries, and veterinarians from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association joined officials from Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for meetings with key members of Congress. The groups voiced their collective support for equine welfare legislation including the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act.

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Photo courtesy of Bryant Taylor

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961/S. 2006, would permanently ban domestic horse slaughter, as well as the transport of horses abroad for slaughter in Canada and Mexico—sadly still permissible. Each year more than 80,000 American horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico, where they are butchered for their meat, which is consumed overseas. The suffering begins the moment these horses enter the slaughter pipeline. After being acquired by kill buyers, at auction or otherwise, they are loaded into cramped livestock trailers with other horses and spend many hours without food and water. These frightened flight animals often panic and fight in close quarters, which results in them injuring themselves in transport.

After all the cruelty and suffering these horses endure, their meat is unsafe for human consumption. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses sent to slaughter will have ingested, or been treated or injected with, multiple chemical substances known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans, or specifically prohibited for use in animals destined for human consumption.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693/S. 1007) passed the House this summer with an overwhelming 333 to 96 vote, so advocates today focused on increasing support for the bill in the Senate. The measure proposes urgently needed reforms to end horse soring—a cruel practice that inflicts pain on the horse’s feet and legs to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick.” The PAST Act will eliminate the use of devices integral to the soring process, end a corrupt industry system of self-policing, and increase fines and criminal penalties for violators.

The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754/S.1820) will ban race-day medication, create a uniform medication policy for all 38 racing jurisdictions, and substantially increase out-of-competition testing for racehorses. The bill proposes to grant independent control over rule-making, testing, and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new Authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA ). This same agency is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports in the United States, and it’s well qualified to reinforce standards within racing. These equine athletes are the heart and soul of the sport and deserve protection from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

The groups that gathered on Capitol Hill represent policy, rescue, and veterinary perspectives. The Homes for Horses Coalition has saved countless horses each year from the slaughter pipeline—witnessing the cruelty of the process firsthand and helping to rehabilitate survivors so that they could go on to live happy, productive lives as companion animals. As veterinary professionals, the members of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association can accurately speak to what truly qualifies as humane euthanasia and reject what occurs to horses at foreign slaughterhouses. As individuals who prescribe routine medications to horses, they are also qualified to  share their concerns regarding the doping of racehorses and the effects of illegal drugs on the health of racehorses. HSVMA members also have an acute understanding of the pain inflicted on horses who are sored and forced to perform in agonizing pain.

We helped to bring together these stakeholders to share their perspectives with members of Congress in the interests of passing life changing bills. You too can have an impact by contacting your members of Congress and asking him or her to support the SAFE Act, the PAST Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act—together we can create a more humane world for horses!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Breaking news: California lawmakers ban fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Update: The bill to ban fur sales has also passed the concurrence committee and will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature.

In two historic votes for animals, California lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to ban fur sales and to stop the trophy hunting of bobcats, who are often targeted for their distinctive look and coloration.

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Photo by Megan Lorenz/iStock.com

State senators this afternoon passed a ban on the sales of all new fur products. Last night the Senate passed the bobcat bill 31 to 8 (with one Senator not voting) and just this afternoon the Assembly concurred.

The fur sales bill now heads back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote, and, if all goes well, it will soon join the bobcat bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his signature.

Californians have repeatedly shown a deep concern for the well-being of animals killed for their fur and for trophies. Nearly 71 percent of them support banning fur sales statewide, and some of the largest cities in the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, West Hollywood, and Berkeley, have already banned fur sales.

The impact of a fur ban in California would be immense. The state is often listed right behind New York as one of the most fashionable in the country. A fur sales ban in California would further reinforce to fashion followers and to the fashion industry globally—which is already moving away from fur—that most consumers no longer want coats, stoles, and other accessories that involve raising and killing animals cruelly.

More than 100 million animals, like foxes, minks, and raccoon dogs are now killed each year for their fur. These animals live in cramped, wire-bottom cages on fur factory farms, deprived of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, and are cruelly killed by gassing or electrocution.

Some animals in the wild, like bobcats and coyotes, who are targeted for their fur, are trapped using archaic leghold traps. The animals suffer in these cruel traps for days, without food or water, and these indiscriminate traps also often kill or maim non-target animals, including endangered species and pets.

Over the past few years, the California legislature and the state’s Fish and Game Commission have taken steps to protect bobcats from such cruel practices, including a ban on trapping, a ban on the use of hounds to chase down bobcats, and a ban on the sale of bobcat fur originating from the state. Despite these protections, hundreds of bobcats continue to be killed in California every year, usually for nothing more than a trophy and bragging rights. 

Californians feel strongly about protecting bobcats: nearly 70% are opposed to trophy hunting these beautiful native carnivores. The bobcat bill that passed through the legislature will put a moratorium on trophy hunting bobcats, protecting this species and allowing the Department of Fish and Wildlife to gather much-needed scientific data on their population. Even without trophy hunting, bobcats still face serious threats to their survival in the state, like loss of habitat each year from human development, droughts stemming from the climate crisis that threaten bobcats’ prey base, and dangerous wildfires that continuously threaten their ecosystems.

We applaud Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who introduced the bill banning fur, and Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who put forth the bill banning bobcat hunting. Let’s take a moment today to celebrate these momentous victories for animals, and keep up the fight to get them across the finish line in coming days.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Breaking news: EPA moves to end animal testing

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a landmark announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced plans to end all animal testing on dogs, mice, rabbits, and other mammals for chemicals and pesticides in coming years. Instead, the agency will focus on investing in non-animal alternative technologies that are more reliable and do not cause animal suffering.

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

The agency plans to substantially reduce animal tests, including those it commissions in-house as well as those that it requires businesses to conduct, by 2025, and to end them altogether by 2035. The agency will also devote $4.25 million to the development of non-animal technologies (also known as new approach methodologies, or NAMs) at five universities. These approaches could include organ-on-a-chip technologies, cell cultures, computer modeling and other methods that are faster, cheaper and more predictive than time-consuming animal tests.

The agency’s decision to stop using results from mammal studies for approval of new chemicals will further spare even more animal lives. Companies seeking approval for a new chemical will be required to seek the consent of the EPA in order to carry out animal tests.

Today’s announcement follows the 2016 revision by Congress of the Toxic Substances Control Act—a law that regulates chemical safety in the United States. At that time, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States successfully advocated for key provisions which mandated that animal testing should be minimized and non-animal methods and strategies developed and prioritized. The likely outcome will be to spare hundreds of thousands of animals from having chemicals rubbed onto their skin, dropped in their eyes, or forced down their throats.  

We have also lobbied the U.S. Congress to support increased appropriations for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development and its Computational Toxicology Program, to explore the use of mathematical and computer models to help assess chemical hazards and risks to human health and the environment. In a bipartisan approach, members of Congress have consistently prioritized key funding for these non-animal technologies.

In recent years, the EPA has taken decisive steps to reduce the use of animal testing for both chemicals and pesticides, and we are grateful to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for his continued commitment in this regard. In 2016, the agency released a guidance document allowing pesticide manufacturers to waive the need for skin toxicity tests by accepting information already obtained through other tests, and published a letter to stakeholders expressing its goal of significantly reducing the use of animals in acute toxicity tests for pesticides. In 2018, the EPA released a policy encouraging the use of non-animal test methods for determining whether pesticides and chemicals cause skin allergies. As part of the updated TSCA, the EPA, in 2018, published a strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative test methods. The overall effect has been one of steady, sweeping progress toward a long-cherished goal for animal protection advocates—the end of experiments that cause pain and misery to animals.

We are excited to see the EPA reinforce its commitment with today’s pathbreaking announcement, which heralds a new era for animals in laboratories. We urge other government agencies, industries, and stakeholders to join with the agency to end animal testing by investing in development and implementation of non-animal methods. The results will be improved human safety, more accurate and timely results, a better environment, and an end to animal suffering.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

U.S. says Michigan businessman who killed critically endangered black rhino can bring his trophy home

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

An American trophy hunter who killed a black rhino in Namibia will receive the Trump administration’s consent to bring his spoils home. This is the third time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to import a black rhino trophy since 2017, and it illustrates, yet again, how this taxpayer-funded agency is pandering to a few wealthy trophy hunters while showing a callous irresponsibility toward critically endangered species.

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Photo by Bill Gozansky/Alamy Stock Photo

The FWS notified us last week that it will issue the import permit to a wealthy businessman from Michigan who killed the animal in May last year in Namibia's Mangetti National Park. The man agreed to pay $400,000 to a Namibian government fund in exchange for the permit.

This pay-to-slay scheme has become increasingly common in the United States and elsewhere, with trophy hunters claiming that they are benefiting African economies and helping conservation efforts when they kill already imperiled animals. But as studies have shown, there is little evidence that the money actually helps threatened species or communities—in reality, it mostly goes toward lining the pockets of hunting companies and corrupt officials. What is clear is that trophy hunting is driving some animals—already under threat from poaching, habitat loss, and trafficking—to extinction.

There are fewer than 2,000 black rhinos left in Namibia and rhino poaching there is on the rise, with criminals targeting the animals for their horns. According to news reports, 27 black rhinos were poached in Namibia in 2017 and 57 in 2018. This is hardly the time for the United States—which should be leading conservation efforts to save these animals—to instead contribute to their decline by facilitating the ambitions of privileged Americans who want to kill them for trophies and bragging rights.

U.S. law is also very clear: under our federal Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to import trophies of endangered species unless such action is determined to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. Allowing this Michigan trophy hunter to import a critically endangered animal’s trophy, whose numbers in the wild are already dangerously low, clearly does not meet this standard.

In giving its blessing to such imports, our government is also ignoring the fact that most Americans do not support trophy hunting; polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose trophy hunting of big game. A similar decision by the FWS to allow another American trophy hunter to import a black rhino trophy last year was met with outrage and disgust on social media.

President Trump famously derided trophy hunting as a “horror show.” But despite this, trophy hunters have found a willing partner in the FWS under his administration, and we have seen a steady rollback of laws protecting endangered species since 2017, including scaling back of protections for elephants and lions. Last month, the government finalized several regulatory changes to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects at-risk species and their habitats—a decision we are challenging in court.

There is no justification for a handful of people with deep pockets and friends in high places to continue robbing the world of its most prized and beautiful wildlife. And there is no justification for our government to continue making it easier for them to indulge in their dangerous hobby. We urge the FWS to stop issuing permits to allow trophy hunters to import the body parts of some of our world’s most endangered animals, and instead do what most Americans want—take the lead in saving these animals, for themselves, for the earth, and for all of us who would rather see an animal in the wild than as a head on someone’s wall.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Monday, August 26, 2019

U.S. proposes new rule to save endangered right whales

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Right whales are critically endangered, with no more than 400 individuals surviving along the U.S. and Canadian coast. But we have an opportunity right now to help save this species. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering a rule that would reduce one of the greatest threats to the survival of right whales, and it is critical that you weigh in.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Less than half of the world’s remaining North Atlantic right whales are female and, since 2017, only 12 calves have been born. In those same years 28 right whales were found dead either from being hit by large ships or becoming fatally entangled in commercial fishing gear used in lobster and crab fishing. The species is declining. Unless we act fast, right whales could face extinction, but not before they have endured terrible suffering.

Imagine a heavy rope tied tightly around your leg that you have to drag everywhere you go. The rope slowly cuts into your flesh, affecting your ability to walk, eat or sleep, and you could die of infection or starvation over a period of weeks or months. This is what right whales face when they become entangled in fishing gear. The proposed rule would restrict where and how often fishermen can set their gear, potentially sparing suffering—and the lives—of many whales.

In 2018, the Humane Society of the United States, along with partner organizations, filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. We did so as it became clear that the U.S. government was not acting to impose restrictions on fisheries to reduce the increasing numbers of entanglement-related deaths in the United States. In 2012, in the wake of several fatal collisions with ships near the busiest port areas along the eastern seaboard, our coalition successfully petitioned the U.S. government to designate areas where ships are required to reduce speeds when and where right whales are expected to be present. In 2016, the NMFS dramatically expanded the boundaries of coastal habitats designated as “critical habitat” after we petitioned for—and sued to get—this additional protection.

The HSUS and Humane Society International have also pressed the Canadian government to take action to reduce right whale deaths in its waters. As a result, this year Canada restricted more fisheries and designated specific shipping areas with a seasonal slow speed requirement.

In Congress, HSLF and the HSUS are supporting passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act, H.R. 1568, introduced by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla. The act would authorize $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years. The House of Representatives included additional funding for right whale conservation in its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) and we are urging the Senate to do so as well.

We also hope that the NMFS will go further in its proposed rule by creating seasonal closures to risk-prone fishing gear in key areas of the Northeast during the time when right whales are feeding in the area. This would include additional funding for research into fishing gear that does not pose a risk of deadly entanglement; the mandatory use of marked fishing lines in lobster and crab fisheries to identify and implement targeted risk reduction measures; and increased enforcement to ensure that fisheries comply with federal mandates.

Right whales have suffered terribly for many decades, and they are perhaps the world’s most endangered large whale species. Whalers named them right whales because they are slow-moving and live close to the coast, making them the “right” whale to kill. Their rapidly-declining numbers led to these whales gaining international protection in the 1930s, after which their numbers increased slowly, but they are declining once again as human activities threaten their survival.

You can help to ensure that our government acts to protect these creatures before it is too late. The NMFS recently held public hearings and has promised a court that it will propose new restrictions by early next year. Please leave your comment here and let the agency know you support these and additional protections. The time to help right whales is right now.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Washington Post reveals White House may have meddled to stop USDA inspectors from helping suffering animals

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There are new and explosive revelations about the lengths the Trump administration may be going to in order to prevent U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors from documenting and reporting violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Washington Post story details a disturbing case at an Iowa facility in 2017 where nearly 300 raccoons, bred and sold as pets and for research, lay suffering and without relief in their stacked cages in 100-degree temperatures. But when a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists confiscated some of the animals and made plans to come back for the others, an industry group appealed to a Trump White House adviser. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials then intervened to block the inspectors and veterinarians from taking the remaining raccoons, and they were ordered to return the ones they had already seized.

“In the months that followed, the Iowa incident was described by USDA officials at internal meetings as an example of the new philosophy of animal welfare protection under the Trump administration and Perdue,” reporters Karin Brulliard and William Wan write. “Leaders of the agency’s Animal Care division told inspectors to treat those regulated by the agency—breeders, zoos, circuses, horse shows and research labs—more as partners than as potential offenders.”

William Stokes, a veterinarian who oversaw inspectors in 27 states for USDA, told the Post that the weakened enforcement had caused an “untold numbers of animals” to experience unnecessary suffering.

These are shocking revelations, but they are not surprising to us. The Post article further cements concerns that we’ve had—and voiced—on this blog before: that in the past two-and-a-half years, the USDA—the agency with a mandate to protect animals used by businesses, including pet breeders, zoos, research labs and other institutions—has been failing miserably to do its job because it is busy pandering to those who run these businesses. The result has been immense suffering for the animals, even as the USDA itself has been hemorrhaging experienced staff and taxpayer dollars.

The Post article also discusses a shift in the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act with regards to the soring of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds—a shift that began in 2016, after the appointment by the Obama administration of Bernadette Juarez, the first non-veterinarian to lead the Animal Care division. Among other changes, a new rule required a second USDA veterinarian to independently perform a second inspection on a sored horse, and unless both came up with the same results, the horse could not be disqualified and the owner could not be cited. As a result, the number of horses that inspectors determined had been sored dropped from 30 percent in 2016 to only two percent in 2018.

The weakening of enforcement is not the only bad change made by the Trump administration: in early 2017, it abruptly removed from the USDA website all public inspection reports on regulated facilities. The same year, it introduced an incentive program that allows licensees to avoid penalties for violations by self-reporting them, even if the violations resulted in animal deaths. It has also removed a chapter in the inspectors’ guide that explained how to identify and confiscate suffering animals, and began training for inspectors that instructs them to “educate” licensees rather than documenting violations.

As a result, since the current administration took office, citations by USDA have plummeted 65%, according to the Post’s research, and enforcement cases declined 92% between 2016 and 2018.

Former Animal Care division head Ron DeHaven called the decrease in citations for the most serious violations concerning. “If there are things that are directly impacting the health and well-being of animals, I don’t care who the administration is,” he told the Post. “Those are the kinds of things that need to be documented.”

The Humane Society of the United States own research for our Horrible Hundred report shows a similar drop. They found that many puppy mills that have been cited by state officials for serious issues, such as emaciated dogs and dying puppies, received completely clean inspection reports from their USDA inspectors.

With our government turning its back on the animals, it has been left to animal protection groups like us—and the media—to shine a light on the cruelty when possible. We are intensifying our fight against puppy mills by working with states and localities to stop the sale of puppies in pet stores altogether, and we’ve been successful in more than 312 localities and two states. Earlier this year, 39 Senators and 188 Representatives wrote a letter urging the USDA to stop treating regulated industries as their clients, tighten up enforcement, require documentation of every noncompliance, and restore the public inspections records and enforcement documents to the USDA’s website.

We, along with the HSUS, have also filed a lawsuit against the USDA for withdrawing, in 2017, a rule finalized by the Obama administration that would have closed loopholes in Horse Protection Act regulations. And we’ll be watching to see how USDA inspectors are allowed to perform their duties at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that starts this week in Shelbyville. This week, five of the lead House sponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which the House approved in July, sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging the Department to “do everything possible to vigorously enforce” the HPA, and for field employees at the Celebration to “perform their inspection duties with diligence.” A parallel letter was also sent to the secretary by the lead sponsors of the Senate PAST Act.

The administration should take heed that we will not sit by and allow it to continue choosing the interests of businesses over the animals they use. The media spotlight is already turned on them, Congress is watching, and rest assured we will not miss a single opportunity to protect the animals with all means at our disposal.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

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