Two Key Wins and a Setback for Polar Bears
Not long after I became president of The Humane Society of the United States three years ago, and after we merged our operations with the spectacular folks at The Fund for Animals, we decided to concentrate some considerable resources in four major campaign areas: 1) animal cruelty and animal fighting, 2) factory farming, 3) seal clubbing and the fur trade, 4) particularly inhumane and unsporting types of hunting, (and we have since added "puppy mills" as a fifth campaign).
By putting more resources than ever into these areas, and co-mingling the talents of litigators, investigators, scientists, lobbyists, campaigners and others, we have seen robust activity and a host of successes—along with an occasional setback. And today and yesterday, we saw major action in three of these four campaign areas—with landmark successes achieved in two of three areas.
First, in Louisiana, the state legislature took a historic step and gave final approval to a bill to outlaw cockfighting and make the state the 50th state to pass an anti-cockfighting measure, although it delayed the implementation of the ban until August 2008. And while the delay is disappointing, there is a silver lining.
Earlier in the week, the state legislature gave final approval—over the strong objections of the cockfighters' legislative advocates—to a separate bill to impose an immediate ban on gambling at cockfights. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has said she will sign the bills.
Because gambling is always present at cockfights, we believe the anti-gambling measure comes close to a de facto ban on cockfighting. And along with a new federal law against animal fighting that was enacted last month—which makes it a felony to move any fighting animal or any cockfighting implement in interstate or foreign commerce—Louisiana's cockfighters and their co-religionists in surrounding states have very little room to maneuver. They should just pack it in, and stop their appalling cruelty. If they don't, they are likely to face serious consequences.
During the first half of this year, we have achieved a trifecta on animal fighting—enacting a cockfighting ban in New Mexico (the 49th state to outlaw the practice), passing the measures in Louisiana (the 50th), and dramatically upgrading the federal law against animal fighting.
It is a historic moment for us—and a personal ambition of mine—that now all 50 states and the federal government have laws against cockfighting.
Louisiana State Senator Art Lentini (R) was our legislative stalwart, doing a brilliant job of shepherding both anti-cockfighting bills to passage. And I also send special thanks to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Francis Thompson (D) who was instrumental in getting the job done on both bills in his chamber.
A mother pig and her piglet.
Second, in Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) is today expected to sign a bill to ban gestation crates—the two-foot by seven-foot cages used on some factory farms to confine pregnant sows for months and years on end in space too small to allow animals to even turn around. Voters in Arizona and Florida supported HSUS-led ballot initiatives to ban gestation crates, but the Oregon measure is the first one to pass by action of a state legislature. State Senator Ginny Burdick led the fight, and we are indebted to her for her tenacity and commitment and legislative smarts. I offer my sincerest thanks to all of the lawmakers who supported this progressive policy.
And finally, I am sorry to report that the news from the U.S. Congress is not as positive as the two reports from the states. Yesterday afternoon, in what can only be described as a cave-in to the NRA, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment to ban the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada—by a vote of 188 to 242.
Polar bears are on thin ice.
American hunters have imported 800 polar bear trophies in the last decade, killing them in guided hunts in Arctic Canada. Now with the bears imperiled because of the effects of global warming, they can ill afford this additional killing by trophy hunters, and an amendment offered by Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) was designed to put an end to this mayhem.
The NRA, which earlier this year unsuccessfully attempted to derail the animal fighting bill mentioned above, collaborated with the Safari Club International to fight the polar bear protection amendment. While the NRA has little stake in the issue and just offers knee-jerk opposition to any measure to curb even the most unsporting and biologically reckless hunting practices, the Safari Club has a more direct institutional stake in the issue, because it advertises a hunting achievement award called "Bears of the World." To win this award, a hunter must kill four of the eight bears species in the world, and since several of the bears are endangered and off limits to hunters, they trek to Canada to kill the polar bears to complete the quadruple killing.
The motivation for these trophy hunters is selfishness and self-aggrandizement, and there's nothing good or decent about their conduct. Sometimes I can hardly believe that lawmakers would defend such an activity—killing of the one of the world's most remarkable animals, now imperiled because of human-caused warming, in a head-hunting exercise.
But I saw it with my own eyes on the House floor yesterday.
Indeed, it is tough to stomach the sight of lawmakers arguing with a straight face and parroting the line of the NRA that it helps the bears to shoot them, even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just a couple of months ago proposed that they be classed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
There were some particularly low, but almost laughable, moments in the debate. Utah Representative Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), in arguing for the defeat of the amendment, falsely claimed that the groups backing the amendment had wanted to kill Knut,, the famous polar bear at the Berlin Zoo. And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)—who always manages to raise his voice in favor of animal exploitation—used his time to launch an incoherent tirade against the amendment, calling it the next step in a campaign toward " incremental global vegetarianism."
Though the House vote is a setback, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to protect polar bears in its version of the Interior Appropriations bill, and if that provision stays in the final Senate bill, a conference committee will make a final determination on the provision.
We must all remember that no sort of lasting change ever comes readily. We fought for decades to have all 50 states outlaw cockfighting. And we also fought for years to see the first few states take a stand against gestation crates and other factory farming practices. We will continue the fight for the polar bears, knowing that the setbacks we face in the short run will just make the final victory all the more rewarding when it ultimately occurs.