Spending bills move up in Congress, with progress for wild horses and burros, wolves and other wildlife
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
As the U.S. Congress takes up the business of funding federal programs, some good news for animals has emerged. Today, the House Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce — all federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include groundbreaking new protections for wild horses and burros, support for gray wolves, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.
The 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.
Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:
New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $6 million for a pilot project to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The language for increased funding for a non-lethal pilot program included in the FY 2020 report is for scientifically based fertility control tools, which do not include sterilization. Consistent with a strategy proposed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States and several other organizations, this initiative directs the BLM to work with key stakeholders to implement a non-lethal, science-based approach to wild horse and burro management on two to three herd management areas. This will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept, an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe and humane reversible fertility control tools, which do not include surgical sterilization, become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Notably, this legislation includes first-time language to close a loophole that could have allowed the U.S. Forest Service to kill healthy wild horses and burros and/or to send them to slaughter; the bill also reinstates a similar prohibition with respect to the BLM.
Maintaining ESA protections for gray wolves: Time and time again, when federal protections are removed for wolves, states allow their resident wolves to be trophy hunted and trapped, causing their populations to plummet. This is one of the main concerns with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed rule to remove ESA protections for gray wolves. The bill that covers the Interior Department directs the agency to carefully analyze state management plans to ensure adequate protections will be in place before it removes a species from the ESA list, and then establish a stringent monitoring system with rigorous enforcement provisions. The bill also rejects cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, which provides grants for livestock producers willing to undertake non-lethal activities to reduce the miniscule risk of livestock losses from wolves.
Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and southern resident killer whale. It proposes at least $4 million for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance grant program, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.
Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $37 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $49 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by almost $4 million from its FY 2019 level and by $9 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.
Animal testing alternatives: The bill covering the Interior Department proposes $40 million more in funding above the president’s request for the EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program and Endocrine Disruptor Program, which develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
We are excited about shepherding these proposals forward in Congress, and we look forward to your continued support for these and other animal protection measures in weeks to come.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.