Update: Trump signs omnibus funding package with wins for horses and burros, companion animals, animals in research and more

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

December 19, 2019

President Trump has just signed into law the omnibus appropriations package with major victories for animals, including horses and burros, companion animals, marine mammals and animals in zoos and research facilities.

The package, comprised of two bills (H.R. 1865 and H.R. 1158) funding all federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2020, was passed by the House on Tuesday with bipartisan votes of 297-120 and 280-138, respectively, followed by Senate votes of 71-23 and 81-11 yesterday. The wins for animals in the package include:

  • Wild horses and burros: The funding package provides an additional $21 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program—funds that can only be accessed after the agency submits a comprehensive plan on how it will implement an aggressive, non-lethal program. The program must be based on scientifically sound, safe and humane fertility control tools that exclude surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation of wild horses and burros to larger, more humane pastures instead of perpetually warehousing these animals in holding pens. Additionally, the bill prohibits the BLM and, for the first time ever, also the U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending healthy horses or burros to slaughter.
  • Wildlife trafficking whistleblowers: The package includes the Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act, which authorizes the State Department to award monetary incentives to persons who disclose original information concerning transnational wildlife crimes that result in a successful enforcement action.
  • USDA inspection and enforcement records: Language in the omnibus directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations. This is the first time Congress has included bill language (rather than report language) to fix this problem, and the USDA will have no choice but to follow this directive.
  • Companion animals in domestic violence situations: The package provides $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. The grant program will help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. House committee report language directs the USDA, and the Departments of Health and Human Services as well as Housing and Urban Development to coordinate implementation during FY20 (House and Senate committee report language not explicitly reversed is deemed agreed to by both chambers in the omnibus).
  • Horse slaughter: Prohibits USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • Animal Welfare Act enforcement: The House committee report calls on the USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices that the agency has promoted during the past few years. The omnibus includes $31,310,000 for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) enforcement.
  • Horse soring: Provides $1 million (a $295,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring”Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
  • Alternatives to animal research/testing: Provides a $40 million increase to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which is charged with making direct applications of non-animal alternatives for research and regulatory needs by federal agencies. The additional funds will help speed the transition to non-animal methods.
  • Trafficking of companion animals for research and testing: Renews the prohibition against the USDA using funds to license Class B random source dealers who are notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through theft for research and testing.
  • Use of primates in research: Omnibus report language directs the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on alternatives to reduce and replace primates in biomedical research.
  • USDA enforcement: The House committee report presses the USDA Inspector General to strengthen its animal fighting enforcement and to audit the USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Humane slaughter of farm animals: Renews bill and report language directing the USDA to ensure that inspectors focus attention on compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive at slaughter plants and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust training.
  • Pet food safety: Provides $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to address pentobarbital contamination in pet food, which has caused illness and death in pets.
  • Disaster planning: Continues funding for the USDA to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to support state and local governments’ efforts to plan for protection of people with animals and incorporate lessons learned from previous disasters. Directs the USDA to work with producers that want to voluntarily develop disaster plans to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
  • Vet care: Provides $8,000,000 for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program that encourages veterinarians to locate in underserved rural or urban areas.
  • Wildlife protection funding: Maintains level funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs that protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Provides an increase of almost 30% from FY19 for the internationally focused Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The omnibus also rejects a proposed cut to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, maintaining funding for its grants supporting proactive, non-lethal measures by livestock producers to reduce the risk of livestock loss by wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves.
  • Marine mammals: Provides $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for North Atlantic right whale conservation, with $1 million specifically reserved for a pilot project for research and development of safer fishing gear to lessen entanglements with these critically endangered whales. Also maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission—a key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems—overcoming its proposed elimination in the president’s budget.
  • Trophy imports: Directs the USFWS to reevaluate its current policy allowing imports of hunting trophies on a case-by-case basis and analyze how targeted investments and technical assistance to the exporting countries’ conservation programs would impact the survival of elephants and lions, improve local communities, and sustain species’ populations. The omnibus expresses concern that the current trophy import policy is detrimental and may not adequately determine whether a country has proper safeguards in place to protect species vulnerable to poaching.
  • Wildlife trafficking: Dedicates funds under the State Department and the Department of the Interior to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Prohibits use of State Department funds by any military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

We are grateful to the many congressional champions of these provisions with whom we worked over the past year, to House and Senate leadership for keeping the process on track, and to all the legislators who voted for these measures. We also thank President Trump for signing both appropriations bills, helping us create a brighter future for animals in 2020 and beyond.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

More than 40 wild burros slaughtered in the Southern California desert; reward offered

Wild burros on a dry lake bed in the Silurian Valley in October 2014. Since May 2019, a total of 42 wild burro carcasses with gunshot wounds have been found along the Interstate 15 corridor between Halloran Springs, Calif., and Primm, Nev., in various states of decomposition.

Wild burros on a dry lake bed in the Silurian Valley in October 2014. Since May 2019, a total of 42 wild burro carcasses with gunshot wounds have been found along Interstate 15 near the California-Nevada state line.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

More than 40 wild burros have been found shot and killed along the Interstate 15 near the Nevada state line, Federal officials said on Friday, and they’ve offered a reward of up to $18,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

It is one of the largest killings of its kind on public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Southern California, officials said.

A total of 42 wild burro carcasses with gunshot wounds have been found in various states of decomposition near the freeway corridor through the Clark Mountain Herd Area managed by the Needles field office of the BLM.

“We will pursue every lead until we’ve arrested and prosecuted those responsible for these cruel, savage deaths,” said William Perry Pendley, the BLM’s Deputy Director for policy and programs, “and we welcome the public’s help to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice.”

Details about the ongoing investigation were scarce. However, BLM officials said the burros, including several juveniles, were shot in the neck with a rifle.

Some were brought down while drinking water in the Halloran Springs area.

Animal protection organizations said they were outraged by the slaughter and have contributed thousands of dollars to the reward.

“It’s a travesty that these animals would be gunned down,” said Grace Kuhn, spokeswoman for the nonprofit American Wild Horse Campaign. “There’ve been isolated incidents before over the years, but nothing on this scale in memory.”

Neda DeMayo, president of the nonprofit Return to Freedom, said, “I’ve been told that at least one of the burros was still alive when it was discovered by a passerby. But it succumbed to its injuries by the time BLM investigators arrived on the scene.”

“It’s all so unbelievable,” she added. “Crazy. Hostile. Cruel.”

Burros are not native to the West’s deserts, but they became some its most valued resources: sure-footed in rugged terrain, capable of carrying heavy loads long distances, and withstanding extremes in temperatures of cold and heat.

In the 1920s and 30s, they were turned loose and replaced by Model-A Fords and other vehicles. Since then, they have multiplied without restraint with few predators to check their numbers.

With populations that doubled every four to five years, they’ve managed to survive by feeding on the sage and wild growth of the Mojave Desert.

By the 1950s, wanton slaughter of wild burros in California’s desert and mountains had reached such proportions that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pressed for legislation to protect the creatures from trigger-happy hunters.

One killing ground was Homewood Canyon, near Trona, about 240 miles northeast of Los Angeles, where the SPCA officials in 1953 reported a shocking scene: Over an area of 50 acres, they found 50 burro carcasses. Only a few had bullet holes in the head, indicating that most had been left wounded where they fell.

Today, the animals are protected from capture, branding, harassment or death under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which considers them an integral part of the natural system of public lands managed by the BLM.

Violations of the act are subject to a fine of up to $2,000, or imprisonment for up to one year, or both, for each count charged.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the WeTip hotline at (800) 782-7463 or visit http://wetip.com.

Reward offered after 42 wild burros shot, killed in California desert

 – A reward of more than $50,000 is being offered, after dozens of protected wild burros have been found shot and killed in California’s Mojave Desert.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said since May, 42 wild burro carcasses have been found along a 60 mile stretch of Interstate 15 from Halloran Springs, California to Primm, Nevada.

BLM officials said the donkeys had been shot in the neck. Some were killed near watering holes, where they were drinking.

“In many instances, the person or persons appear to be shooting at the burros from a distance,” said BLM spokeswoman Sarah Webster. “The weapon is believed to be a rifle.”

The burros being targeted are from the Clark Mountain Herd Area of the Mojave Desert, which before the shootings, had a population of about 120 burros, according to Webster, who added that these animals were and are in good health.

The BLM is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the deaths.

Others have come forward to contribute to the reward fund.

On Monday, the Humane Society said an anonymous donor from its burro protection initiative, the Platero Project, donated $32,500.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, Return to Freedom, and The Cloud Foundation have also joined in the efforts to stop the killings, offering $2,500, $5,000 and $1,000 respectively.

“We’re very glad the BLM is taking this sick crime seriously,” said The Cloud Foundation’s director, Ginger Kathrens. “The burros belong to the American people and are beloved symbols of our nation’s history and pioneer spirit. They deserve to be protected.”

Killing a protected burro is punishable by a $2,000 fine and a year in jail.

The animals are federally protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The law designates wild, free-roaming horses and burros as integral parts of the natural system of public lands and aims to protect the animals from capture, branding, harassment and death, according to the BLM.

“America’s public lands belong to all of us,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom, adding, “These cruel and hostile acts against federally protected animals strike at the heart of everyone working so hard for their protection and for humane, non-lethal solutions to management concerns.”

Anyone with information about the killings is urged to call the federal WeTip hotline at 800-782-7463 (800-78CRIME), or visit ​​​​the crime reporting website here.

Still Undecided? Vote against the Bow Hunter

If you’re one of those hold-out voters we keep hearing about who hasn’t yet decided who to elect for President, here’s an idea for you: cast your vote against the guy that boasts a bow hunter as his Vice-presidential partner in crime—the Robin to his Batman. (That would be the Republican, Mitt Romney—in case you’ve been lucky enough to miss his outspoken VP sidekick and hunting addict, Paul Ryan, yammer on and on about his favorite hobby of launching aluminum shafts tipped with razor-sharp arrowheads into the bodies of innocuous, peace-loving deer.)

I can understand and relate to the disillusionment anyone might feel about our current President. Some of the things he’s pulled—joking about eating dogs, removing their canine cousins, the wolves, from the federal Endangered Species list thereby casting their fates into the eager hands of hostile states, or relegating  horses and burros to the slaughterhouse—are unforgivable. We can’t let him get away with that sort of thing in the future.

But, there’s no doubt that the other candidate would commit equally atrocious crimes against animals, in addition to mocking global warming with his stated goals of approving the Keystone pipeline and opening up fragile federally protected lands to oil drilling. Adding insult to injury, Romney had to go and tap not just a hunter, but a goddamned bowhunter—the most sadistic strain of killer out there—for a running mate.

Unfortunately for dedicated animal advocates, we’re forced to have to choose between the lesser of two evils yet again. In this case, the bowhunter is clearly the greater evil on the ballot.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson