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July 24, 2014

Updates on Urgent Battles for Animals

Today, some updates on important issues in our orbit.

Ag-gag legislation

California downer cow abuse
Our investigations like this one at a California slaughter plant have unearthed shocking animal abuse. Photo: The HSUS

Last night, former HSUS undercover investigator Cody Carlson and I appeared on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to talk about the concerted effort by agribusiness interests to stifle animal welfare investigations of factory farms and slaughter plants. This was an in-depth treatment of the issue, with undercover investigative footage broadcast on MSNBC. It was especially nice to see Rev. Sharpton, who has his own considerable political following, associate himself with animal protection, and he vowed to keep on top of the subject.

While the industry’s lobbyists were able to ram an ag-gag bill through in Idaho (after the state’s powerful industry was angered by Mercy for Animals’ shocking exposé of animal cruelty), they failed in every other state, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Vermont.

Missouri right to farm amendment

Missouri already has a longer-standing ag-gag law, and now interests there are trying to prevent any further state regulation of any agricultural operations, whether it is factory farms, puppy mills, or captive deer hunting facilities, by enacting a constitutional amendment that provides a “right to farm.”  The proponents of this ballot measure, led by the Missouri Farm Bureau, are spending hundreds of thousands as an investment in deregulating these industries for good. But the state’s opinion leaders are having none of it. All of the state’s major newspapers – including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Joplin Globe, Jefferson City News Tribune, along with many small town papers – have urged voters to oppose Amendment 1. Family farmers, including the Missouri Farmers Union, have joined The HSUS in saying that Missouri should not protect foreign or state corporations from hurting animals, degrading the land or fouling water. We can win this fight, and we must. To get involved go to www.VoteNoOn1.org.

USFWS suspension of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe

Elephant
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspension on the import of sport-hunted trophies from Zimbabwe should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting. Photo: Alamy

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the suspension of the import of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe. Given the crisis situation African elephants are facing, with tens of thousands of elephants slaughtered each year for their ivory, this is good news. Hunting these majestic animals in a head-hunting exercise does not enhance their survival and the suspension should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting.

Massachusetts bans shark fin trade

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed legislation banning the possession and sale of shark fins in the state. The HSUS worked to pass the bill, along with our allies at the New England Aquarium, MSPCA-Angell and Fin Free Massachusetts. This is the latest victory in our campaign to end the cruel practice of shark finning, in which sharks’ fins are cut off and the fish are then thrown back into the ocean, leaving them to drown. Annually, as many as 73 million sharks are slaughtered worldwide. Massachusetts is the ninth state to ban the sale and possession of shark fins.

Michigan wolves petition

Wolf
There is yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby in Michigan to nullify ballot measures that would  protect wolves from needless killing. Photo: Alamy

Michigan’s state Board of Canvassers certified a pro-wolf hunting petition for the November ballot. This petition represents yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby to nullify ballot measures to protect wolves from needless killing. We have an amazing coalition of humane groups, Native American tribes, environmentalists and scientists intent on protecting the state’s small population of wolves, who were just removed from the list of federally endangered species. We want to let Michigan citizens vote on these issues in November, and we are urging the politicians in Lansing to stop undermining fair elections. Pledge to protect Michigan wolves here.

Comment period on constricting snakes ends today

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) comment period seeking additional information for the listing of five species of large constrictor snakes—boa constrictor, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda—as injurious species closes today. So there is still time for you to write the agency to urge them to end the inhumane trade of these beautiful, wild creatures. It has been more than four years since USFWS proposed listing nine species identified as “medium” or “high risk” for colonizing the southern tier of the United States. In 2012, USFWS got only half the job done, listing only four species. Almost all of Florida’s major newspapers – from the Sun Sentinel to the Orlando Sentinel to the Tallahassee Democrat – have urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action, since that state has become ground zero on the issue.

July 23, 2014

Time to Make a Racket About Ractopamine in U.S. Pigs

If you have any doubt about the contempt that some leaders within the pork industry have for their own customers – to say nothing of the pigs locked in gestation crates – the dispute over a dangerous animal drug named ractopamine should dispel it. On Monday, McClatchy reported that the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is maneuvering to derail free trade talks with the European Union unless the EU agrees to accept imports of pork from pigs fed ractopamine. Ractopamine is a beta-agonist (a drug used to treat asthma in humans) that producers feed pigs, cattle and turkeys to induce rapid weight gain. It is banned or restricted in around 160 nations—including in the EU and even in Russia and China. But that hasn’t stopped the American pork industry, which now treats an estimated 60 to 80 percent of its pigs with ractopamine, from routinely using the drug. And, despite substantial evidence that ractopamine causes pigs to suffer, the American pork industry is now trying to push its product into more foreign markets, too – under their doctrine that its profits should trump any concerns from regulators, scientists or consumers about food safety or animal welfare.

Pigs
Research shows that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

There are serious questions about food safety and ractopamine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ractopamine for use on pigs after just one human health study—a study of six young, healthy men, one of whom dropped out because his heart began racing and pounding abnormally. Three years later, the FDA sent ractopamine’s sponsor a 14-page letter, accusing the company of withholding information about the drug’s “adverse animal drug experiences” and “safety and effectiveness.” The European Food Safety Authority subsequently investigated the drug and concluded that there was not enough data to show that ractopamine is safe for human consumption at any level. That’s concerning, especially given that a recent Consumer Reports test of pork products at U.S. supermarkets found samples testing positive for ractopamine residues.

We do know, though, that ractopamine is bad for the pigs forced to consume it. The FDA has linked ractopamine to nearly a quarter million reported adverse events in pigs (more than half of those pigs were sickened or killed)—more than any other animal drug. The most common adverse events linked to ractopamine were trembling, lameness, inability to stand, reluctance to move, stiffness, hyperactivity, hoof disorder, dyspnea, collapse and death. Our report on pig welfare cites research showing that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse and become “downers,” no longer able walk. Not only do these downer pigs suffer terribly when they collapse, they also become more vulnerable to abuse. We’ve conducted our own investigations of hog factories, and documented gross mistreatment of downer pigs. The pig industry vehemently fights all of our efforts to require the euthanasia of downer pigs, and to prevent additional handling and slaughter of these infirm animals (processing downed cattle is forbidden under federal law, but not pigs).

More broadly, the dispute over ractopamine shows the arrogance of the leadership of the pork industry, which insists on using a dangerous drug and then complains when other nations and American consumers don’t want their pork. They have some sort of expectation that they are the parents and they will tell the children to eat whatever is on their plate. It reminds me of their stubborn refusal to stop using gestation crates—coffin-sized crates that confine pregnant sows so tightly that they can’t even turn around – and their disregard of public attitude surveys that show that consumers in every state oppose their continued use. NPPC criticized McDonald’s and a cascade of other major food retailers that have made public pledges to phase out their purchase of pork from operations that confine the sows so severely. These retailers are telling the pork industry that if the industry won’t pay attention to the wishes of consumers, then retailers will. The mentality of the industry is best summed up by an NPPC spokesman who told a reporter in 2012 the following: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…” The NPPC, and some others within the industry, seem to think that their customers exist to serve them, rather than they to serve customers.

These obstructionists are facing a major challenge from within their industry, with major producers splitting from NPPC on gestation crates and ractopamine. Smithfield Foods, for example, has committed to phasing out all of its gestation crates and to reducing its use of ractopamine. And just last month, we were pleased to announce that Cargill is following suit in eliminating gestation crates. Now it’s time for the pork industry’s laggards to step up—and for the obstructionists at the NPPC to get out of the way. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture or U.S. trade negotiators, nor their counterparts in the E.U., should buckle to the unreasonable demands and the unsafe and inhumane policies of the leadership of the U.S. pork industry. 

July 22, 2014

The True Cost of the Doggie in the Window

Every year, 40,000 homeless dogs pass through the doors of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the most populous county in Arizona. That’s more than 3,330 dogs a month and almost 110 dogs each day. The influx of Chihuahuas and Chi mixes alone is so large that the shelter has set aside three of its rooms just for the tiny breeds.

Puppy mill dog
Most pet-store puppies come from puppy mills which treat the mother dogs like breeding machines and the puppies like a cash crop. Photo: Jason Miczek/AP Images for The HSUS

This seemingly unending stream of homeless pets was one of the reasons Phoenix passed an ordinance to stop pet stores from selling commercially-raised puppies. As our investigations have documented time and again, most pet-store puppies come from puppy mills, which are typically large-scale commercial breeding operations that often cut corners on animal care and treat the mother dogs like breeding machines and the puppies like a cash crop. Every day, while shelters like Maricopa’s deal with an influx of unwanted pets, hundreds of puppies from central puppy mill states such as Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri are flowing to pet stores in communities all across the country.

The pet stores peddling puppy mill dogs in communities like Phoenix create direct and indirect burdens on shelters and rescue groups. Consumers who buy pet-store puppies on impulse – typically not knowing the dogs are coming from mills in the Midwest – later relinquish them to shelters in distressingly large numbers. These pet-store puppies, along with those purchased from websites or at open-air flea markets, clog the adoption pipeline, placing enormous burdens on municipal and county animal care and control and on private animal welfare charities.

As USA Today reported today, the owners of Phoenix’s Puppies 'N Love pet store have filed a federal lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court in Arizona, arguing that the ordinance is unlawful. But to prove the case that pet stores don’t need to sell puppy mill dogs to be successful, one need only look within the county, at the Phoenix-based Petsmart, which for years has had a policy of supporting pet adoptions in its stores nationwide without selling commercially raised puppies or kittens. It’s the biggest pet store chain in the nation, with nearly 1,300 outlets in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In fact, many homeless dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care and Control are placed via a Petsmart Charities adoption center in Scottsdale, reducing crowding at the shelter and boosting its adoption rates.

The real costs of the puppy-selling pet stores, websites and flea markets are borne by the public and private shelters where so many homeless animals end up. When you add it up across the United States, it’s probably a $2 billion burden, and with 10,000 puppy mills churning out two to four million dogs, you can see that this is not an abstract or theoretical concern. It’s as real and practical as it gets. 

The question remains, why can’t a city try to stop the flow of puppy mill dogs into its community, given the misery that dogs endure in mills and the costs that the community bears to deal with a homeless animal problem that results in 3,300 dogs coming through just one animal welfare agency in the county in just one month? What of the hundreds of other animal welfare organizations in the country also bearing their share of the burden?

Phoenix has joined more than 50 locales in adopting such ordinances. It’s not an attempt to restrict commerce, but to combat severe animal welfare and euthanasia problems, and to stop these businesses from passing on costs to the rest of society. These reasonable laws help to drive the market toward adoptions of homeless animals at shelters and rescue groups, and toward responsible breeders who provide proper care for their dogs.

July 21, 2014

Houston, We Have a Problem – With Bird Poisoning

Images of distressed birds writhing, seizing and flopping their wings, broadcast last week on Houston television, were tough for the public to see. Photographers for KHOU-TV recorded this horror show at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) after a contractor hired by airport authorities, in cooperation with United Airlines, intentionally poisoned grackles, pigeons and other birds, with corn kernels mixed with the deadly toxicant Avitrol®. Startled airport employees saw birds dropping out of the sky shortly after dawn on Saturday and the deaths continued through the weekend. Some birds being filmed took almost an hour to die.

Pigeons
Preventative and non-lethal strategies are available to stabilize populations of birds, like pigeons. Photo: iStockphoto

Aviation safety must be a priority, given that so many human lives depend on incident-free flights, and there are times when aggressive management of birds at airports is warranted. But the plan executed in Houston seems particularly cruel and unnecessary. No management authority should be able to vaguely invoke public health and safety as a rationale for this kind of cruel killing, especially when it has allowed airport bird populations to reach into the hundreds and made a minimal effort to employ preventative and non-lethal strategies first.

Today, I wrote to city, airport and United Airlines officials, pointing out that “exclusion, with netting or by other means, keeps birds from places where they might nest, roost, or simply find shelter. Managing the habitat, such as altering the height of grass on runways, can help keep birds off airfields, and other management actions can be undertaken to deny birds access to key on-site sources of food and water, as a means of compelling them to go elsewhere.” I also noted that “frightening devices and visual repellents are commonly deployed at airports to reduce risks of bird strikes. Underlying all of these approaches is a humane population management strategy that can stabilize populations through the use of birth control via a commercially available reproductive inhibitor, OvoControl®.” Why were these types of practices not employed prior to the decision to conduct indiscriminate poisoning?

Airport authorities in Dallas-Fort Worth told the Houston Chronicle that they do not use lethal tactics, and many other airports around the nation have discarded Avitrol as a realistic means of preventing airplanes from striking birds. Avitrol is a particularly inhumane and indiscriminate poison that is marketed as a “frightening agent” because it causes birds to convulse and suffer over long periods of time. The erratic movements of the dying birds ostensibly scare other birds. The Environmental Protection Agency rightly placed new restrictions last year on Avitrol’s use

Bird killing, especially by cruel methods, is an issue we’ve been confronting for years, especially as conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at airports and aquaculture facilities, in municipalities, crop fields, feedlots and other settings where conflicts between birds and people arise. Wildlife Services, as the USDA’s program is known, kills 3 to 5 million birds a year.  The government’s approach, like the Houston airport’s, needs to be re-examined in light of the public’s concern about humane treatment of all animals.

We are fortunate to have a world populated with birds. To be able to watch their incredible feats of flight and hear their marvelous song is a source of human wonder and enjoyment. We see them around our homes and workplaces in ways we cannot often see and enjoy other wildlife. They enrich our lives. Of course, conflicts are inevitable but the challenge for us is to actively manage these in a way that does not leave a trail of death and misery in its wake.

Houston airport officials and United Airlines showed us the wrong way to handle the conflict.  Let’s take a lesson from this and move toward more humane control methods, so this grisly scenario is never repeated again. The events in Houston should be a primer for every airport in the nation on how not to handle a situation with birds and aircraft.

July 18, 2014

Every Field of Humane Work – Everywhere

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that nearly 50 counties and cities have laws against puppy mills. This version has been corrected. Nearly 50 counties and cities have outlawed the sale of puppies in pet stores.

Given that it’s our 60th year, and we’re now six months into 2014, I thought it might be a good time for a progress report on the major accomplishments of the year – as signs of the forward movement for animals and also as indicators of what your investments in The HSUS yield in very tangible terms.

PHASING OUT SOW GESTATION CRATES

Gestation crate
After years of negotiations with The HSUS, three of the country's meat industry giants announced new policies on the issue of sow gestation crates. Photo: The HSUS

After years of negotiations with The HSUS, Cargill, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods – three of the biggest meat industry giants -- announced new policies on the issue of gestation crates, with the Cargill and Smithfield announcements being the most definitive and game-changing. Pushed by the Humane Society International affiliates there, Canada announced a national ban on gestation crates, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, Arcos Dorados, the largest operator of McDonald’s restaurants in that part of the world, announced a requirement for pork suppliers to present documented plans to limit gestation crate use and promote group housing for sows. Our HSI India office helped to shut down the country’s only gestation crate facility on the basis of cruelty.

KILLING THE KING AMENDMENT AND THROTTLING AG-GAG BILLS

In the biggest fight on the Farm Bill, we succeeded in blocking the dangerous King amendment, which aimed to nix state laws protecting farm animals. At the state level, we battled ag-gag bills introduced in several states to make it virtually impossible to expose animal cruelty and worker safety abuses at factory farms. Our investigations – including at a Kentucky hog factory – showed how exposing abuses is essential to a robust examination of what’s happening at facilities far removed from the line of sight of consumers.

ENDING ANIMAL FIGHTING AND COMBATING MALICIOUS CRUELTY

Chimpanzee
At our urging, Congress passed legislation to help finance the transfer of all government-owned laboratory chimpanzees to sanctuaries. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

We succeeded in fortifying the federal animal fighting statute by making it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. South Dakota became the 50th state in the nation to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, after a decades-long national campaign by The HSUS to have 50 state felony statutes.We made cockfighting a first-offense felony in Louisiana and banned the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia. Forty-one states now have felony cockfighting statutes. We helped convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to overturn a lower court ruling and affirm the constitutionality of the federal animal crush video law we worked to pass in 2010.

CURBING THE USE OF CHIMPS AND OTHER ANIMALS IN RESEARCH AND TESTING

At our urging, Congress passed legislation to help finance the transfer of nearly all of its government-owned laboratory chimps to sanctuaries, after NIH agreed to phase out the use of the vast majority of these great apes in experiments. Merck announced that it is ending the use of chimps in experiments, just weeks after President Obama signed the federal chimp legislation. India and China all announced new policies on animal testing for cosmetics, following the European Union action last year forbidding any sale of cosmetics tested anywhere else in the world.   

FIGHTING PUPPY MILLS

We released our second annual Puppy Mills report, detailing 101 cases of horrific puppy mill abuse, and helped to get anti-puppy mill measures enacted in Connecticut and Minnesota. New Jersey’s Senate also passed a bill relating to mills and pets stories, and locally, nearly 50 counties and cities have outlawed the sale of puppies in pet stores. We won a court of appeals ruling requiring puppy mills to divulge their history of Animal Welfare Act violations, and conducted puppy mill rescues in Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee.

ENDING HORSE SLAUGHTER AND SORING

After HSUS lawsuits temporarily blocked three horse slaughter plants from opening in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico, we’ve won a series of votes in Congress to bar the establishment of horse slaughter facilities on U.S. soil. We are working on extending that ban into 2015, and are well on our way. Our anti-horse soring bill – the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – attracted support from more than two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and Senate combined, and is poised for final action.

PROTECTING MARINE MAMMALS

Minke whale
The International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean is illegal. Photo: iStock

A World Trade Organization appeals panel adopted our legal position and that of the European Union that animal welfare provides a legitimate rationale for banning the import of seal skins from Canada – providing an enormous precedent for other restrictions of animals or their parts grounded on animal welfare values. The International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal, prompting the island nation to say it will observe the ruling. We also persuaded the Obama Administration to reverse its position that federal law precluded the state’s from adopting their own shark fin bans, and won a federal court ruling dismissing a challenge to California’s shark fin law.

DEFENDING TERRESTRIAL WILDLIFE

We passed legislation in West Virginia to restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets, bringing the number of states with some restrictions on possession of dangerous wild animals to 45. And our legal team convinced a federal court of appeals to throw out a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s new exotics law. We qualified two referenda in Michigan to block trophy hunting and commercial trapping of the state’s small population of wolves, and we qualified a ballot measure in Maine to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping. At our urging, the New York and New Jersey legislatures banned the sale of ivory, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily banned the import of tusks from American sport hunters travelling to Tanzania and Zimbabwe for elephant hunts there. We have also come to the aid of over 10,000 wild animals in harm’s way, including deer, coyotes, geese, prairie dogs and raccoons, due to construction, habitat destruction, and other human-caused threats.

EXPANDING ANIMAL PROTECTION ACROSS THE GLOBE

Sochi dog
We worked with Olympic athletes to bring back dogs rescued from Sochi, the site of the Winter Olympics. Photo: Meredith Lee/The HSUS

We arranged for Olympic athletes, led by silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, to bring back street dogs rescued from Sochi, the site of the Winter Olympics, highlighting the importance of humane street dog management work. Our HSI-Costa Rica office was centrally involved in a successful effort to develop specific legislation banning dogfighting in the country, and our HSI-India staff and board members were part of a campaign to end bull fighting and bull racing – practices that were banned this year by the Supreme Court of India.  

The HSUS and its affiliates constitute the movement’s largest provider of hands-on services to animals, and we are the globe’s leading advocacy organization for animals.  This year, Humane Society International is planning on opening HSI offices in Brussels, Mexico, South Africa and Vietnam to further extend our major campaigns across the world. We are taking on the fight in so many ways – public policy and enforcement, corporate reforms, hands-on care of animals, and educating the public. We also provide more choices to consumers, like our work with dozens of school districts (including Dallas, Houston, and Philadelphia) to incorporate meat-free meal programs into lunchrooms, or investing in companies that are building parts of the emerging humane economy.

We’re grateful for your support, and hope you join with us in taking on the challenges that animals face in our world. 

 

July 17, 2014

Testing Our Humanity and Ingenuity on Animal Testing

Every year, 20 million animals – a number so big it's hard to wrap your mind around it – are used worldwide in chemical studies, causing immense suffering and pain. But this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued new, updated guidance for its 34 member countries – where most of these studies are performed – which could open up a different pathway forward, one that would spare millions of creatures a miserable fate.

Rabbits
New OECD guidance on chemical testing could spare millions of animals from a miserable fate. Photo: iStockphoto

One document released by the OECD helps toxicologists and regulators understand how to test for skin corrosion and irritation without using animals. Traditional skin corrosion and irritation studies using animals inflict a great deal of pain and suffering on large numbers of animals – usually one to three rabbits for each test. In Europe alone, a new regulatory program focused on gathering skin corrosion and irritation information on approximately 40,000 chemicals would translate into the use of 120,000 animals under the typical animal testing protocol. This OECD document could help prompt the use of non-animal tests to satisfy these and other testing requirements.

Another document recently made public recommends new methods that use cultured cells and tissues instead of live animals to test potential hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current screening program includes five of 11 tests that use animals. In the first phase of this program, the screening of just 47 chemicals killed 27,000 animals. Many other countries around the world may require endocrine testing, with the potential for millions of animals to be killed if  traditional animal tests alone are used. This OECD recommendation too could have a dramatic positive impact.

These changes are not coming out of the blue. They are the result of our longtime efforts, mainly by scientists of our staff, to embed our concerns within the relevant science-based institutions and policy-making networks. In fact, The HSUS was instrumental in getting a seat at the table at the OECD back in 2002 and served as the first lead of the International Council on Animal Protection in OECD Programmes (ICAPO). ICAPO experts advise the OECD on the use of non-animal alternative test methods in chemical testing programs. In the European Union, the OECD establishes chemical testing guidelines that are used by industries in the member countries to develop and market new chemicals. OECD policies ultimately have a global impact, so ICAPO’s participation is critical.

We are committed to replacing the use of animals in chemical testing with faster, better, more humane science - science based on current understanding of human biology and incorporating modern technologies to provide better information for protecting humans and the environment.

You can learn more about this work at our new web site, HumanToxicologyProject.org. If you’re interested in learning more about non-animal alternative methods in toxicology, read the Toxicity Testing Overview on the AltTox.org website – a project co-sponsored by The HSUS. For more information about non-animal testing in general, visit the HSUS' Alternatives to Animal Tests page.

July 16, 2014

Bear Baiters Spread Doughnuts, False Claims, and Fear in Maine

In today’s Bangor Daily News, Maine hunter Joel Gibbs upends the simplistic framing coming from a vocal segment of bear trophy hunters in the Pine Tree State about Question 1 on the November ballot.

Maine black bear
Maine is the only state that allows baiting, hounding and trapping of bears. Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS

With Maine’s bear baiting season about to start later this month, the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine is attempting, with fear tactics, to rally hunters, warning them that Question 1 bodes the end of bear management in the state.  In fact, Question 1 would only put a stop to certain inhumane and unsporting methods of take already illegal for other big-game species, such as deer and moose – baiting, hounding and snare trapping.

As Gibbs said in his column today, he’s killed nearly two dozen bears during the last quarter century, but has never needed to rely on shooting the animals over a giant barrel full of meat parts and jelly doughnuts, or taken aim at a bear as it clung to a tree limb after being driven there by a pack of dogs with radio transmitters on their collars. And he’d never think of shooting a bear execution style, after catching one in a snare trap.

As a fair chase hunter, Joel Gibbs is not an outlier – he actually is in the mainstream of bear hunting in America. It’s just that Maine somehow fell out of the mainstream, and it’s allowed a relatively small number of guides to turn the north woods into a vast dump site and an unsporting killing ground, mainly for out-of-state trophy hunters intent on making an easy kill to acquire a trophy.

You see, of the 3,000 to 4,000 bears shot in Maine each fall, out-of-state shooters account for more than 60 percent of the killing.  Calling the baiter a “guide” is a stretch. He’s more like a junk-food distributor and bear pointer.  Hundreds of Maine guides collectively put out millions of pounds of food for bears, in order to gain a fee of $1,500 to $3,000 to create a bear-killing opportunity. Then, they tell a seated client to shoot the biggest bear at the dump site.

The HSUS has worked with rank-and-file hunters like Joel Gibbs in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington to ban these practices by citizen initiative, just as Maine voters are proposing to do in November. Maine is the only state that allows baiting, hounding and trapping of bears.  

The guides and their allies in the trophy hunting lobby say it’s essential for management, but how can that be if no other state allows all three of these practices? And what is the behavioral and population-wide effect of dumping millions of pounds of food out for bears during a critical period prior to hibernation, especially given that every responsible wildlife management agency says it’s a mistake for humans to feed bears? Doing this grows the bear population, habituates bears to human food sources, and causes bear encounters with people.

In the last 10 years, according to Maine’s own state wildlife agency, the bear population has increased by 30 percent. This has happened even though state wildlife managers have allowed the use of these unsporting and inhumane tactics, which have drawn all of these out-of-state hunters but haven’t even stabilized the bear population. In contrast, in the states that have banned bear baiting and hounding, the bear populations and the number of human-bear conflicts have stabilized, and more people have participated in fair-chase bear hunting, generating greater revenue for those states.

I hope the majority of Maine voters follow the voting recommendation of Joel Gibbs and support Question 1. Even if a majority of bear baiters in Maine don’t take Joel’s voting advice, maybe he can teach them a thing or two about how to hunt bears, in a way that doesn’t stack the odds so badly against the bears and violate the basic precepts of hunting itself.

Paid for with regulated funds by the committee of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, PO Box 15367, Portland, ME 04112.

July 15, 2014

Frankendeer, Captive Hunts, and Captive Politicians

We know that Washington lobbyist and PR operative Rick Berman has shilled for seal clubbers, puppy millers, elephant abusers in the traveling circus industry, and all sorts of factory farming interests. His career portfolio also includes folks who peddle tobacco to teens, enable drunk drivers, promote risky tanning beds, and inject corn syrup, trans fats and mercury-laden fish into American diets. Now he’s added another animal abusing group to that list – captive hunters.

Deer
The United States may have upwards of 25 million free-roaming, wild deer. We don't need to breed more in captivity. Photo: John Harrison

Yesterdayreporter Ryan Sabalow, who conducted an 18-month investigation into the world of cervid ranching and captive hunting of deer for the Indianapolis Star, wrote that the industry has hired Berman as its shill  too, specifically to help override the Missouri governor’s veto of a captive deer ranching bill. The lawmakers pushing for deer farms – against the wishes of the Missouri Department of Conservation – are the same ones pushing a “right to farm” measure on the August 5th ballot.

If that measure, Amendment 1, passes, it could forever protect puppy mills, captive hunting operations, hog factories, and other “agricultural” operations from any state regulation whatsoever.

Earlier this year, Sabalow authored a remarkable four-part series, “Buck Fever,” which exposed the breeding and captive shooting of “Frankendeer” featuring bizarrely enormous antlers. The practice of breeding and raising these mutant deer – who are shot at in fenced hunting preserves – threatens native wildlife, livestock and our food supply with potentially deadly diseases and imposes a substantial cost upon taxpayers for multi-million-dollar government eradication efforts.

Sabalow’s report notes that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in 22 states, first detected in captive deer herds before being found in wildlife that interacted with the captive populations. And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. The evidence is overwhelming, with wildlife officials citing deer escaping from farms and blending in with wild populations, and researchers in Michigan setting up remote cameras along deer fences to document nose-to-nose contact between captive and wild animals. After CWD-infected deer were found on a Missouri preserve, others were found in the wild within two miles of the pen—but nowhere else in the state.

Hunters interviewed for the story rightly criticized the shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens, seeing it as a mockery of fair chase. At the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri, “one bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

The trial of one Indiana captive hunt operator included video footage of “a white-tailed deer with majestic antlers…dying of pneumonia, so sickly that a ranch hand had to poke it with a sharp stick to get it to stand. On wobbly legs, it toppled over in a snowy thicket…it appeared to be propped into a standing position, a branch through its antlers. A few yards away, a camouflaged hunter crouched in the snow, his rifle at the ready. A cameraman stood behind him filming the action, all part of a service for which the hunter paid $15,000. In the video, the hunter fires and the deer collapses, legs twitching in the snow…the hunt took place inside a 1-acre pen.”

Is that what Missouri wants, and then to protect this kind of cruelty and “sport” from any regulation?

How often do we see an irresponsible industry putting the rest of society at risk, seeking handouts from the federal government, and expecting the public to clean up the mess it has created? The people who breed tigers and lions for roadside zoos and photo ops dump these dangerous predators into communities, threatening public safety and fobbing off the millions of dollars in costs for their lifetime care to nonprofit sanctuaries. Burmese pythons and boa constrictors peddled over the Internet become established in the natural environment and wipe out native birds and mammals. Millions of dogs churned out by large-scale puppy mills cost unsuspecting pet owners in heartbreak and veterinary bills, and displace healthy dogs who would otherwise be adopted from shelters and spared euthanasia.

The remarkable thing is, the nation may have upwards of 25 million free-roaming, wild deer –the number one game species in the United States in terms of spending and hunter participation. If there’s any species we don’t need to breed in captivity, it’s white-tailed deer. But the greed of some, and the trophy lust of others, have been sufficient motivators to drive the establishment of 10,000 of these deer farms throughout the United States, posing tangible threats to native wildlife and to farm animals – and therefore to the established hunting and farming industries. 

States should follow the lead of Florida, which recently banned the import of captive deer. We don’t need any more of these operations, and they certainly don’t need immunity from regulation as proposed by Republican lawmakers in Missouri. Governor Nixon has it right, and his veto of a captive deer ranching and hunting bill should stand. And on August 5, Missouri voters should reject the second part of their plan – by turning down a ballot measure, concocted by the Farm Bureau and loyally shepherded to passage by Republican lawmakers, that amounts to a get-out-of-jail pass not only for captive hunters but also for puppy millers and foreign-owned hog factories.

Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, CEO, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037. 

July 14, 2014

Burrowing in on Wild Horse and Burro Management

Burros are among my favorite of the animals residing at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, with their long ears and friendly stares. We have a couple hundred of rescued burros there, and visitors seem to have a special fascination with them, too. As with all of the animals at the ranch, they've landed there because of some tale of woe - in most instances, because the burros have gotten a raw deal from the federal government, which manages, or mismanages, their populations on the vast reaches of public lands in the West.

Burros
Guatemala has burros of its own and does not need shipments of burros from the United States. Contact BLM now to keep our nation's wild burros here. Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, is mandated to maintain populations of wild horses and burros in the 11 western states where they live. There are only about 40,000 wild horses and only 8,000 burros, and three quarters of the horses are in just two states - Nevada and Wyoming. The remaining states have relatively small populations, typically with 3,000 or fewer animals.  There are millions of cattle and sheep on those federal lands, yet ranchers complain of too many wild equids.

The government has been rounding up and removing horses and burros, ostensibly to control these wild populations and minimize their ecological impact.  In the process, the feds have been building a captive equine population now in the tens of thousands, at short-term and long-term holding facilities. Just last week, the BLM released new information that its personnel and contractors would round up nearly 2,400 more wild horses and burros this year. The cost of the round ups and housing and feeding the animals is now cannibalizing about two-thirds of the budget for the program, which has been widely regarded through the years as a case study of mismanagement.

For years, we have pressed the Bureau of Land Management, which runs the program, to focus instead on fertility programs to manage populations - a solution that the National Academy of Sciences also recommended in a report commissioned by the BLM. The BLM has been slow to implement the recommendations of the NAS.

Now, in what can only be described as a case example of poor decision-making, BLM is undertaking a pilot program with the Department of Defense and Heifer International and intends to allow the transport of 100 burros to residents in Guatemala, for use as working animals. While burros have been traditionally used for this purpose, this use is at odds with the provisions of WFHBA, which requires that the BLM's first priority has to be the humane treatment of wild burros in their care.

We are not insensitive to the difficult and challenging lives of people and animals in Guatemala and other developing countries, and we acknowledge the value and importance of working animals worldwide. Through Humane Society International (HSI) and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Program (HSVMA) affiliates, we have a robust and proactive assistance program that helps provide veterinary care and other resources in these countries. But Guatemala has burros of its own, and does not need shipments of burros compliments of the BLM - a practice that simply relieves pressure on BLM to revamp its program and protect our nation's heritage of responsibly managing wild horses and burros.

We do work with BLM, through our Platero Project, to adopt out burros to suitable owners. So far this year we have placed 190 burros and we remain committed to getting more burros placed in good, local homes. Ultimately though, the solution must be on-the-ground management through fertility control, to obviate the costly and dangerous round-ups and removals and to prevent the population boom of horses and burros in captive holding facilities. 

July 11, 2014

An Exclusive Video Interview with Charla Nash

Yesterday, I wrote about my visit to Capitol Hill with Charla Nash, the courageous woman who five years ago suffered an unthinkable mauling by a pet chimp.  She came to Washington, D.C. at my request to lobby in support of the Captive Primate Safety Act, which seeks to ban the interstate trade in primates as pets.  She spoke at a press conference with me and with lawmakers committed to passing this legislation.

Last night, she sat down with me for an exclusive interview for A Humane Nation. As you’ll see, she’s a remarkable woman with an incredible spirit, and someone who wants to be known not just as a victim, but primarily as an agent of change and reform.

I hope you’ll forward this interview to your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative and urge them to support S. 1463/H.R. 2856.  I hope you’ll also forward it to friends and colleagues and ask them to help Charla and The HSUS turn around this problem.