Two major animal issues stir the race for the Democratic nomination for President

For the first time in American political history, the race for President in its early stages has two serious Democratic candidates – Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard – who are vegan or vegetarian for animal-welfare-related reasons. And more broadly, no prior race has ever had more candidates with stronger records on animal protection issues vying for their party’s nomination.

In recent days, Senator Booker has taken on the NRA and the trophy hunting lobby on one of the most high-impact international animal protection issues.  At the same time, another stalwart animal advocate, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, has been strangely quiet as a controversy over the killing of wolves has begun to rage in his state.

Booker shows no tolerance for trophy hunting in Botswana
As Mayor of Newark, Booker worked to drive down euthanasia rates and adopt other sound animal-care practices – and even ran into a burning building to save a dog.  As U.S. Senator, he’s made animal issues a key part of his agenda.

In this 116th Congress, Booker is the author of a bill to ban the trade in shark fins. In the 115th Congress, he secured passage of an amendment to the Farm bill to apply the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting to all of the U.S. territories, which have been among the most active parts of the United States when it comes to staged animal fighting. And in the 114th Congress, he was the architect of a amendment to a major re-write of the Toxic Substances Control Act to make animal testing a last resort, after all validated non-animal-testing methods were tried first.

Days ago, Booker weighed in on perhaps one of the biggest animal protection issues in Africa: trophy hunting in Botswana, which has more wild elephants, lions, and other large mammals than any other country.  Booker, with Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley, urged Botswana’s political leaders to retain a ban on trophy hunting after the country’s president has sided with the NRA and the rest of the trophy hunting lobby.

Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi, looking to his re-election campaign in the fall and attempting to appeal to some rural communities in the north, is playing to local fears about wildlife conflicts. He’s also attempting to step on the legacy of his predecessor, former President Ian Khama, who was responsible for instituting the southern African nation’s landmark and foresighted 2014 policy of forbidding the killing of wildlife, including by foreign trophy hunters.

Masisi not only announced he’s going to open Botswana’s gates to the trophy hunting clan, but he’s collaborating with Zimbabwe and Namibia in a collective effort to re-open the global trade in raw ivory. If he succeeds in both efforts, we can expect the trophy hunters and the poachers to hit the savannahs and the forests with abandon.  His work is also going to jeopardize Botswana’s second biggest industry of wildlife watching.

Inslee is struggling with the wolf killing issue in his home state
During two terms as governor and seven terms in the U.S. House, Inslee has amassed a nearly unblemished record of support on animal issues. In the state and in Congress, he’s worked to protect polar bears, orcas, and other wildlife, and worked to upgrade federal and state laws against animal cruelty.  Just weeks ago, he signed landmark legislation to phase out the use of cage confinement systems for housing laying hens, making Washington the third state to do so.

In this campaign, Inslee has put fighting climate change at the center of his campaign.   He’s argued that it’s a threat to human health, our economy, and national security, but also an existential threat to all animals and to biodiversity.

But he’s been largely quiet on an animal issue right in his backyard: wolf killing.

Complaints from eastern Washington ranchers Len and Bill McIrvin and other members of the Diamond M Ranch have triggered the killing of more than 80 percent of all wolves eliminated by the state, including 18 alone in the Colville National Forest.  To appease the McIrvins, the state has killed wolves from the Wedge Pack in 2012, the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016, the Sherman Pack in 2017,  the Smackout Pack in 2018, and the Old Profanity Territory (OPT) Pack again in 2019. The Diamond M Ranch has refused government payments to compensate them for lost cattle, has recently discarded the use of non-lethal methods, and emphatically demanded more wolf killing.

Last week, Kelly Susewind, the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, issued kill orders for the entire Old Profanity Territory pack, including its seven wolves. Right now, the state is setting out traps to capture wolves and radio collar them.  And if they catch them, they’ll then use the radio telemetry signals to find all members of the pack and shoot them with firearms from a helicopter, after driving them into an open field.

The McIrvins are hell bent on grazing cattle on public lands partly to provoke a fight over wolves, even as other ranchers throughout Washington state are very effectively using non-lethal methods of managing the occasional conflicts between wolves and ranchers.

The question is, how many wolves will the state kill to satisfy the unreasonable demands of a single ranching family who place cattle on habitat that is unsuitable for them but ideal for wolves?

It’s critical that animal advocates inside and outside of Washington state reach Governor Inslee and urge him to use his influence to stop wildlife personnel from killing all members of the OPT Pack.

Robert Wielgus, a former Washington State University wildlife biologist, has pointed out that livestock losses to wolves were one-third of one percent (0.003) in wolf-occupied areas of Washington except when it comes to the ranching operations of the McIrvins, who has suffered more than 10 times the losses of other ranchers in wolf-occupied territory.

Both controversies – the trophy hunting issue in Botswana and the wolf killing in Washington – require political leadership to solve them and to prevent needless killing.  Senator Booker has weighed in and said “no more trophy hunting” because it “could have a devastating effect on the economy.” We hope that Governor Inslee decides to weigh in forcefully on the wolf issue and not allow a single ranching family to continue to subvert what has been an otherwise sound wolf management program in the state.

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