President Obama goes to the well of the U.S. House tonight to deliver his final State of the Union Address, making the case for his presidency and forecasting what’s ahead for his final year in office.
While the country may be fractured on many of the ideas the President advances, there’s one set of issues that is far less divisive: animal protection reforms. Here’s a subject that allows him to bring together Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, since opposition to animal cruelty is a universal value in our nation. Typically, too, animal protection policies will save us money and make our communities and our lives safer.
So it’s a good time to take stock of how President Obama and his team have done on animal issues and what more they can yet accomplish.
The President and his team have advocated for an end to the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and worked successfully with Congress to secure that language, as well as ensuring strong funding levels for enforcement of animal protection laws at home and abroad.
The Administration, led by its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, did some big things for animals through executive actions in 2015 — closing the door on using chimpanzees in invasive experiments, issuing a proposal to curb the ivory trade, and extending far-reaching Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for African lions. The regulatory actions taken were some of the strongest so far for this Administration, and we hope they are a harbinger of more to come. President Obama’s executive agencies have a number of pending rules that, if adopted, can do wonders for a wide range of animals and cement his legacy as the most pro-animal President in American history:
- Strengthen USDA Rules Against Horse Soring: A 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Audit found that significant upgrades to Horse Protection Act regulations were needed to finally end the abusive practice of soring, a training technique involving the deliberate infliction of pain to a horse’s legs and hooves for the sake of an unnatural show gait. It has been five years since the release of the OIG audit and the regulations still need to be updated to strengthen enforcement to finally end soring. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3268/S. 1121, federal legislation that would crack down on this abuse, has the bipartisan support of 246 cosponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate. It’s time for a proposed rule, consistent with reforms of the PAST Act, to be released for public comment.
- Finalize the FWS Rule to Curb the Ivory Trade: In 2015, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule to curtail the commercial ivory trade in the United States. The United States is the world’s second largest market for ivory product sales, behind China. Last year, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced a detailed and shared commitment to ending the global trade in ivory. The FWS rule also proposed increasing scrutiny of the import of African elephant hunting trophies and extending ESA protection to live African elephants in captive facilities in the United States. The FWS should focus on issuing this rule in the early part of 2016.
- Close the Loophole on the Slaughter of Downer Calves: In response to The HSUS’s 2009 petition, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed changes in 2015 to improve humane handling at facilities that produce veal meat. The USDA proposal requires that calves brought to slaughter but unable to rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized, and excluded from the food supply. The final rule is long overdue and should be released in early 2016.
- Upgrade Protections for Captive Marine Mammals: For 20 years, the USDA has been working on a proposed rule to increase protections for captive marine mammals under the Animal Welfare Act. The current standards are inadequate in providing humane conditions for the animals held in captivity. Additionally, the USDA suspended its enforcement efforts for swim-with-the-dolphin programs in 1999 and The HSUS is encouraging renewed enforcement. The completion of this rulemaking should be a priority for the USDA.
- Provide Captive Tigers With the Same Protections as Wild Tigers: Over four years ago, the FWS proposed a rule to eliminate a loophole in ESA regulations so that all captive tigers in the United States are treated the same under the law. Under existing law, generic tigers (those of unknown or mixed lineage, including thousands of tigers at roadside zoos and private menageries) are not subject to the same permit application and recordkeeping requirements as the 280 tigers managed for genetic diversity by accredited zoos. This commonsense technical correction is essential to promote animal welfare, public safety, and the conservation of this endangered species, and for FWS to meet its statutory duties under the ESA.
- Prohibit Public Contact With Dangerous Animals: In 2013, the USDA sought public comment on The HSUS’s petition seeking a rule to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears, and primates. Big cat cubs are most frequently subjected to public handling, for example at photo ops in shopping malls, and The HSUS’s undercover investigations have documented the dangers to these young animals and the public from these interactions. The USDA should issue a rule prohibiting public contact with dangerous animals.
- Expand Right Whales Critical Habitat: In 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed an expansion of critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales. The expansion covers areas in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean that support calving and nursing. With the new proposal, the critical habitat area would grow to about 29,945 square nautical miles, covering northeast feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region and calving grounds from southern North Carolina to northern Florida. The NMFS should issue the final rule providing protections to right whales in key areas.
In addition to these top priority items, we are also tracking potential actions that would demonstrably harm animals, such as the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and gray wolves in the lower 48 states, and continued taxpayer financing of endless round-ups and warehousing of wild horses, and reckless and wasteful predator control programs throughout the West. In the final year of his eight-year term, the President can use this limited time to wield his still-immense power to put forward these meaningful protections and seal his legacy as a determined advocate for animals.