By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address today, it’s a good time to take stock of how his administration has dealt with animal protection issues of interest to us at the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
President Trump has expressed his personal distaste for trophy hunting — to his credit — but in the past two years, we have also seen aggressive moves by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undo years of work done by previous administrations to save wildlife at risk of extinction globally and in Alaska. Moreover, the government has made blatant handouts to trophy hunters. The animal protection field has also had to grapple with a U.S. Department of Agriculture blackout of important information that groups like ours and the American public rely upon to ensure animals are not suffering.
On balance, it would be fair to say that the impact of federal agencies over the past two years on animal protection has been more negative than positive. Some of the areas where we saw the Trump administration fail include:
- The blackout of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, making it harder for Americans to learn which puppy mills, roadside zoos and research facilities, among other enterprises, are failing to comply with animal protection laws. The USDA has also cut back drastically on the number of warnings, official complaints and license revocations it applies to the worst puppy mills and other Animal Welfare Act violators.
- Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke illegally established the “International Wildlife Conservation Council,” an advisory panel stacked with people who have an interest in killing or importing rare and endangered animals from overseas. The administration also lifted the import ban on Zimbabwe elephant and lion trophies.
- Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act, creating additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, and to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
- The Department of the Interior proposed rolling back an Obama-era regulation that banned some of the worst and most appalling hunting practices on 20 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska, including using artificial light to kill hibernating bears and their cubs, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers in their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou and using dogs to hunt black bears. This, just after Congress revoked similar protections on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in 2017.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Justice committed funds for legal fights in the federal courts to make this administration action permanent.
We did see the Trump administration take some positive steps to help animals, including:
- The National Park Service began work to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, wolf population by introducing 20 to 30 wolves over a three-year period. New wolves will restore ecological balance to Isle Royale’s ecosystem.
- The Food and Drug Administration pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the agency’s animal research programs, establishing a new Animal Welfare Council, and reaffirming its commitment to replacing, reducing and refining animal studies by creating a road map with this focus.
- The National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment, although the area is smaller than many advocates had sought.
- The Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of non-animal test methods.
We are also grateful that the USDA decided to abandon a proposal to outsource some inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos and research laboratories to third-party inspectors. If implemented, the proposal would have essentially allowed these industries to police themselves and severely undermined protections for millions of animals.
As we look forward to 2019, we encourage the Trump administration to take necessary steps to prioritize transparency and to advance key animal welfare reforms, such as:
- A proposed USDA rule to tighten licensing requirements for dog dealers and exhibitors, as well as strengthen requirements for dog dealers to provide basic care requirements.
- A significant increase in the use of population growth suppression tools to manage wild horse and burro populations on our public rangelands. The Department of the Interior must also abandon past proposals to send wild horses and burros to slaughter.
- Mitigating the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including taking measures to reduce deadly entanglements in lobster gear and other trap/pot fisheries gear, and to reduce the risk of vessel strikes by imposing mandatory ship speed limits in additional areas of seasonal high use along the east coast.
- Prioritizing the relocation of chimpanzees currently owned and supported by the federal government to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. The National Institutes of Health should also prioritize approaches to replacing animals in harmful research that not only represent the best available science, but could also prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.
Congress recently demonstrated that animal protection is a bipartisan value, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to introduce bills to attack horse soring, horse slaughter, shark finning and malicious animal cruelty. We hope that in the coming year, we will see more of an effort by the administration to work for, and not against, animals. Animal protection is an American value and most of us — Republicans and Democrats — do not want to see innocent creatures hurt or killed needlessly.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.