Big Wins for Animals in House Spending Bill, but Treatment of Wild Horses and Burros Still Unsettled

This week, the U.S. House passed a multi-agency spending bill, including the Agriculture, Interior, Justice, and Veterans Affairs departments. At Animal Wellness Action, we worked on a wide range of issues across the agencies that affect animals.

We had some great outcomes, but now it’s time to pivot to the U.S. Senate where we need your help to secure and finalize the provisions that matter most, and eliminate the most dangerous provision – a plan by a suspect coalition of the two largest animal protection groups in the U.S., along with the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) that threatens our wild horse and burro populations. The breakdown of H.R. 3055 as it relates to priority issues is as follows:

Department of Justice funding to prosecute animal cruelty crimes – Provides $2 million in funding to the DOJ for enforcement of the animal fighting laws, the Horse Protection Act, Animal Welfare Act, and Crush Video Act, creating a special task force and animal crimes unit at DOJ. This measure was led by U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-MI), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ben McAdams (D-UT), Peter King (R-NY), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), and Cindy Axne (D-IA) that passed by a roll call vote of 381 to 50.

Department of Agriculture funding to enforce animal fighting laws – Provides $1 million in funding to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General to enforce the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act that Animal Wellness Action secured in the 2018 Farm Bill. The PACE Act outlawed animal fighting in the U.S. Territories, and this continuation of our work helps ensure the new law that takes effect in December of this year will be fully enforced.  U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Peter King (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Ben McAdams (D-UT), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Ron Estes (R-KS) led the charge on this measure that was adopted by voice vote on the House floor in a block of amendments.

Blocking African trophy hunting imports—Defunds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s  (USFWS)  ability to issue permits for importation of elephant or lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia, or Tanzania – the floor amendment was led by U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer, (D-OR), and Ted Lieu (D-CA) that passed by a roll call vote of 239-192.

Veterans Affairs funding for equine assisted therapy – Provides $5 million in funding to the VA for equine assisted therapy grants that would help pair homeless horses that could otherwise end up in the horse slaughter pipeline, with our American heroes – veterans who are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as partners in therapy to overcome trauma. The measure reinforces an important commitment to veterans when they return from combat (an estimated 14% to 30% of U.S. veterans suffer from PTSD). This measure was championed by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), co-chair of the Congressional Horse Caucus, and passed by a voice vote on the House floor in a block of amendments.

Preventing slaughter of our iconic American equines — Maintains the de facto ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. by prohibiting USDA spending on horse slaughter inspections for the fiscal year of 2020, a provision that’s been in place nearly every year for more than a decade, thanks to the work of tireless advocates throughout the United States. This is a much-needed provision until the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would permanently end horse slaughter, becomes the law of the land.

Returning scrubbed Department of Agriculture data— Instructs the USDA to return data scrubbed from its website in 2017 and begin reposting new data that includes inspection reports and enforcement records related to the Horse Protection Act, and soring of Tennessee Walking Horses; Animal Welfare Act and puppy mills, roadside zoos and other law breakers who’ve loomed in the shadows for the past two years. This provision was included in the House Appropriations base bill thanks to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA).

Providing funding for the new Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act — Allocates $2 million for a new grant program Animal Wellness Action secured in the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide relief for domestic violence survivors and their companion animals. Any unfunded mandates in the Farm Bill must be funded in appropriations, and this provision was included thanks to the work of U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) who also led the PAWS Act.

Additional Department of Agrilculture funding to prevent horse soring— Provides an increase of $294,000 which raises the horse protection program’s funding to $1 million for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent the cruel practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses by ramping up inspections at horse shows. The USDA has done a miserable job of enforcing the HPA over the past two years, and this funding will enable more technology-based inspection methods to be utilized in the field, and we appreciate the many years of work and dedication from Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) on this front.

And as it goes with any federal legislation – H.R. 3055 isn’t perfect – it has a dangerous and ambiguous provision that would start the BLM down the path of rounding up and removing more than 150,000 wild horses and burros (many still unborn) from our public lands. The provision was championed by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and provides $6 million in taxpayer dollars for a pilot program – a down payment – for a long-term and expensive plan that fundamentally alters the direction of the wild horse and burro program, but not necessarily in a good way. This plan would dramatically reduce wild horse and burro populations to clear the way for more cattle grazing on our public lands.

The provision contains no guarantee the round-up of horses wouldn’t be shipped to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered for dinners on foreign plates, and does nothing at this stage to prevent the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from using helicopters in mass removals — a painfully frightening experience for these flight animals. It also includes a barbaric surgical sterilization process on wild mares in the field – an inhumane practice that is nothing like spaying a dog or cat.

We appreciate the House leaders who led the charge on animal welfare amendments in the bill and their House colleagues who voted to help the voiceless animals we all care so deeply about.  And we applaud you – the advocates that have spent countless hours, days, and weeks fighting alongside us over the past year to help secure this multitude of wins by making phone calls, meeting with legislators in person, sending emails, and taking action on alerts.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the wins and renew and refuel ourselves for the final battle in the U.S. Senate to ensure that pro-animal provisions are secured in both chambers.  At the same time, we’ve got to stay focused on getting sensible and humane wild horse and burro directives in the final spending bill.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.

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