Enormous issues hang in the balance for horses, wolves, and grizzlies in Congressional spending bill
As we move into December, one of the most important fights in Congress relates to the massive spending bill to fund the operations of the federal government in 2018 – where the House and Senate try to find agreement between the respective bills in each chamber and send one final plan to the president for his signature.
There are important spending levels in the bill that have implications for the enforcement of our federal animal protection laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. But that bill is also a vehicle for lawmakers to attach riders, and some Republican lawmakers have attached some very destructive anti-wildlife and anti-horse riders that are an immense threat to animal welfare.
We saw a similar set of issues emerge in the final negotiations last time around, and we were able to prevail when the Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus was completed in May, maintaining critical protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region, grizzly bears, and other animals in Alaska, and for American horses (domesticated and wild) who would not be slaughtered in the United States.
If we are to prevail again this year, or early next year (the timing for final action is uncertain), we will need an outpouring of citizen concern.
This week, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., led a letter co-signed by 30 of his Senate Democratic colleagues urging Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to stand firm against any riders to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for rare species, including wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Sen. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have been staunch and effective advocates opposing attacks on wolves and other wildlife on our public lands and elsewhere. They have also been stalwart defenders of horses, as has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has also long opposed horse slaughter for human consumption and helped fend off efforts to open horse slaughter plants in the United States.
- Horse Slaughter: Language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from expending funds for horse slaughter inspections was included in last year’s spending bill, and it passed by voice vote in the FY18 Senate Agriculture appropriations bill, but was not included within the House Agriculture appropriations bill. By prohibiting the USDA from spending tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants, this language effectively prevents plants from opening on U.S. soil to slaughter horses for human consumption. This provision has been enacted every year going back to FY06 except for FY12-13. Americans do not eat horses and do not want to see their hard-earned tax dollars used to enable a predatory and inhumane industry. It’s clear that a majority of members of the House and Senate oppose horse slaughter, and negotiators should defer to that strong sentiment reflecting the public will, and maintain the ban on horse slaughter in the United States that’s been in place for more than a decade.
- Wild Horses and Burros: The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes language, offered by Rep. Chris Stewart, R.-Utah, to allow thousands of healthy wild horses to be killed. By giving the Bureau of Land Management this authority, Congress is ignoring over 20 years of congressional action protecting wild horses. Appropriations language has been included since 1994, save one year, to prevent the BLM from destroying healthy horses and burros. Eighty percent of all Americans strongly oppose horse slaughter, and we oppose the mass killing of healthy wild horses and burros. BLM has the management tools it needs to be able to reduce the number of horses on the range without turning to mass killing. The HSUS, along with other coalition partners, has submitted to the Department of the Interior a proposed management plan for FY19 that calls for widespread use of humane fertility control and horse adoption as pillars of a multi-pronged plan to help address conflicts and concerns about wild horse numbers on the range and in captivity.
- National Park Service Wildlife Rule in Alaska: The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes a rider blocking implementation of the National Park Service rule (80 Fed. Reg. 64,326, finalized on Oct. 23, 2015) that prevents inhumane hunting methods from being used on national preserve lands in Alaska. The NPS rule prohibits appalling and scientifically unjustified killing methods on more than 20 million acres of federal lands in Alaska, including luring grizzlies with pet food to get a point-blank kill, and killing wolf, black bear, and coyote mothers and their young at their dens. Congress already repealed a similar rule that protected predators on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges, and this madness of cruelly exterminating creatures who are a major draw for tourists on the most important public lands in the United States must end. The HSUS and more than a dozen conservation groups intervened in two lawsuits in February, 2017, in order to defend the Department of Interior’s NPS rule and two similar Fish and Wildlife Service rules (the larger of which was subsequently repealed by Congress, as noted above, under the Congressional Review Act). The government is currently producing an administrative record in this case and the court will receiving briefing on the merits of the case in 2018. Congress should allow this court process to proceed.
- Great Lakes Wolves: The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, as well as the Senate draft Interior appropriations bill, include riders directing FWS to reissue final rules delisting wolves in the Western Great Lakes (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) (76. Fed. Reg. 81,666 [Dec. 28, 2011]) and Wyoming (77 Fed. Reg. 55,530 [Sept. 10, 2012]). The FWS should be making listing decisions based on the best available science; this is not something that should be decided by Congress. At the beginning of August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a unanimous ruling, affirmed a lower court ruling to block federal delisting of wolves in the Western Great Lakes region. The court specifically held that FWS’s piecemeal approach of delisting gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes states failed to consider the impacts on the remaining population of wolves in the lower 48, as well as the impacts of historical range loss.
These are some of the most critical provisions in the pending appropriations legislation. Congress must hold the line and protect America’s iconic horses from commercial killing and other ill-intended outcomes. Meanwhile, Congress should not subvert the federal courts and take wolves off the protected list for purely political reasons. Wolves are an essential part of the ecosystems they inhabit. They keep deer and other prey populations in balance, stopping the advance of Chronic Wasting Disease by killing sick animals, and draw tourists to wild areas for wildlife-watching excursions. The attacks on predators on our National Park Service lands defy a 100-year history of protecting all species on these lands.
Please raise your voice with your lawmakers and demand that they maintain vital animal welfare protections.