Thursday, June 30, 2022

This week offered more proof that our deliberate focus on the appropriations process for specific programs in the federal government can produce great things for animals, much as the passage of stand-alone humane legislation does. It’s why we pursue an “all-of-government” approach that treats budget decisions as important drivers of change and reform.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced strong funding commitments for wildlife protection priorities in its fiscal year 2023 budget for the Department of the Interior. The good news is that this bill includes increased support and language focused on some of our top concerns, such as trophy hunting, implementation of the Endangered Species Act and improvements to the federal wild horse and burro program.

The Committee renewed its recent expressions of concern over the deleterious impacts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s issuance of hunting trophy import permits for protected species. The House bill prohibits the use of funds to process import permit applications of hunting trophies of African lions and elephants from Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, where populations are in decline due to hunting, habitat degradation and related factors. The bill also directs the FWS to reevaluate and report to Congress on its current hunting trophy import policy and whether permits are based on well-founded evidence that exporting countries are adequately protecting these species.

Congress has included this directive in every appropriations package since FY20, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to comply. This time, however, the bill lays out criteria for the agency’s review of the trophy import procedures. We will share this concern with the Senate committee that is next in line to take up the issue and reinforce it with the FWS also. The United States is the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies of protected species, and it is imperative that the FWS adhere to Endangered Species Act requirements for these imports.

The House FY23 Interior Appropriations bill also increases funding levels for endangered species conservation. The survival of thousands of species depends on the Endangered Species Act, but it has been chronically underfunded for decades. In passing the ESA a half century ago, Congress gave FWS and NMFS important tools to carry out the law's goal of conserving endangered species. To be effective, however, recovery strategies require sufficient resources. Congressional appropriations to implement the ESA have not kept pace with the number of listed species or the challenges of conservation in a world facing the combined challenges of climate change, habitat loss and other pressures. Thanks to the strong leadership of Subcommittee Chairwoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, the Committee’s FY23 allocation exceeds that of FY22 by more than $77 million. With nearly 1 million species currently at risk of extinction, we need strong measures—now more than ever—to preserve our nation's wildlife.  
Finally, the FY23 Interior bill continues prohibitions on sending our nation’s wild horses and burros to slaughter and provides a $19 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management with directives to implement an energetic non-lethal program for wild horse and burro management, one that relies on properly employed fertility control methodologies. We have joined with other organizations to advance a strong, rational and effective plan for managing wild horse and burro herds on our western ranges, avoiding the wishful thinking and demagoguery of a few outlier organizations. The issue deserves our best, and that involves engaging the BLM in a realistic approach to reform.

The FY23 bill for the Department of Commerce brought another success, since it includes $29.4 million for efforts to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. That’s a big step up from the FY22 allocation of $21 million, and it’s urgent. In 2019, the population fell an additional eight percent to just 336 individuals. This is the lowest population assessment in decades. Without help, it’s very likely this species will go extinct on our watch.

To an increasing degree, our priority work at the Humane Society Legislative Fund centers on appropriations. It is often the case that our best chance to secure animal protection gains comes through budget deliberations and influencing regulatory and enforcement actions within the many agencies with responsibility for animal welfare concerns. To achieve our goals, we work with hundreds of legislators and legislative staffers, and also with an increasing number of agency leaders and liaisons. Of course, we’re working closely with you, our supporters, who make our efforts possible in the first place. The one thing that brings it all together is helping animals, and as this latest appropriations news makes clear, we’re really making a difference. And so are you.