Last night, Congressional leaders announced an agreement on the details of a massive bill to fund the federal government for the rest of Fiscal Year 2017 (through September 30th), and it’s packed with good news for animal protection. Working with our allies in the House and Senate, we staved off several anti-animal-protection riders, held the line on enforcement funding for critical animal protection programs, and even won new provisions and declarations that could help tens of thousands of animals in the months ahead. The full House and Senate are expected to take up the bill by the end of the week, and while there is no certainty, both chambers are expected to approve it and President Trump is expected to sign the measure into law. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will then begin marking up their bills to fund the various departments in Fiscal Year 2018, another opportunity to seek progress on behalf of animals.
With 184 House members writing in March to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee in support of strong funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and other key federal statutes, negotiators took notice, sustaining funding and even providing increases in a few of the accounts. This is most exciting, especially in light of major cuts proposed in the Trump budget for the departments of Agriculture and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The massive spending bill also contained no harmful language to block important reforms, including a USDA rule to strengthen organic animal welfare standards, a USDA rule to end horse soring (which is currently frozen), and a National Park Service rule barring inhumane hunting practices to kill grizzly bears and wolves on National Preserves in Alaska. We’ll need to stay vigilant to keep out harmful riders blocking these rules in the FY18 budget and on other vehicles where these riders might emerge. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were intensely focused on keeping this bill free of anti-animal riders, and worked across the aisle with a number of Republicans who have repeatedly championed animal protection issues.
Here are some other snapshots of hotly contested items. As always, animal welfare issues were included in the final discussions of top lawmakers in the country.
Congress did the right thing by not opting to legislatively delist gray wolves in this bill, and instead deferred to the courts currently hearing cases about the fate of wolves in the Great Lakes.
Wild horses and burros:
The bill includes language to prevent the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses to be slaughtered for human consumption. It also directs BLM to review all serious proposals from non-governmental organizations and create a plan, within 180 days of enactment of this bill, to maintain long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner. A provision allowing wild horses removed from public lands to be transferred to federal, state, or local governments to serve as work horses makes clear that these horses cannot be sent to slaughter for human consumption.
Horse slaughter defund:
The bill includes language that prohibits wasteful government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which rightfully maintains the ban on horse slaughter in the United States. This language has been maintained for most years since 2005, and ensures that millions of taxpayer dollars are not expended on a practice abhorred by 80 percent of the American public.
Agricultural animal research:
Negotiators included a $400,000 increase for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to strengthen its oversight of animal research at federal Agricultural Research Services facilities. In 2014, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and today’s news builds on strong provisions included in the appropriations packages during 2015 and 2016.
USDA website purge of inspection reports and other enforcement records:
Along with increasing funding for animal welfare inspections of these facilities, the package directs the USDA to post these reports online, a particularly important provision in light of the USDA’s recent mass removal of animal welfare records from its website. While the agency has restored a small number of reports, they are no longer readily searchable and most are still missing altogether.
Class B random source dealers:
The bill also renews the prohibition on funding for the USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats for use in research. These “random source” animals are often obtained from animal shelters, flea markets, or “free to a good home” ads (and sometimes from pet theft).
The package recognizes the importance of funding to conserve marine mammal species such as the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and provides important funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect endangered and threatened species.
It provides an additional $7,500,000 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and $1,920,000 for FWS’ International Affairs division to fight wildlife trafficking, signaling that combating wildlife trafficking will continue to be a priority for Congress.
Environmental Protection Agency:
The bill maintains most of the 2016 budget levels for the agency. This is critical not only for the environment but also for research and development of alternative methods and strategies to supplant traditional animal tests for the implementation of the reauthorized Toxic Substances Control Act.