Public comment sought for Bison Management in Grand Canyon National Park by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and BuffaloIn the 16th century North America contained 25-30 million buffalo. However, in the 19th century bison were hunted almost to extinction – with less than 100 remaining by the late 1880s. This mass destruction came with ease to hunters. When one bison is killed, the others gather around the fallen buffalo, which leads to the easy annihilation of large herds.

As the great herds began to wane William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, among others, spoke in favor of protecting bison because he feared the pressure on the species was too great. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant “pocket vetoed” a Federal bill to protect dwindling bison herds. In 1875, General Philip Sheridan pleaded to a joint session of Congress to slaughter the herds to deprive the Indians of their source of food. By 1884, the American Bison was close to extinction.

In the effort to save this noble species a herd was brought to the Grand Canyon region in the early 1900s. The herd was managed from 1950 into the 1990s by the state of Arizona in the House Rock Wildlife Area (HRWA) in Kaibab National Forest.

During the late 1990s, the herd began migrating to the top of the Kaibab Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP). Today, few bison remain in HRWA preferring the environs of the Grand Canyon Park.

Some 400-600 bison live within the Park. The National Parks Service (NPS) contends the herd is impacting park resources, including water and vegetation – and they want to reduce the herd to 80-200 animals – using hunters.

Advocates for the use of lethal force include Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and Congressman Paul Gosar. Arizona Game & Fish Commission Chairman Kurt Davis says his agency won’t even consider a plan that doesn’t include killing, stating, “Any solution should embrace the most cost-effective and heritage-driven option of using citizen hunters to help manage the growing bison herd.”

“Cost-effective,” “heritage-driven” and “manage” is code for “bullets” “slaughter” and “kill” respectively.

Strangely, politicians seldom seem as concerned about the impact cattle have on our public lands. According to a 1997 EPA study, nearly one third of the prime top soil in the US has been lost over the last 200 years due to cattle grazing. Cattle are also considered one of the main sources of pollution in U.S. streams, and are frequently responsible for outbreaks of Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

In fact, bison grazing has been found to help cultivate the land, making it ripe for a diverse range of plants, whereas cattle eat through vegetation limiting the ecosystem’s ability to recover. Comparing cattle to bison is not meant to upset the cattle industry. But it does beg the question that with over 900,000 head of cattle impacting every corner of Arizona every day are we really willing to concede we don’t have the collective brainpower to humanely accommodate a few hundred bison without resorting to killing?

Congress has introduced a pair of bi-partisan bills meant to “protect” Park resources from further bison “damage” by “requiring” the Department of Interior and AZ Game and Fish to develop a plan to permit hunters to “assist in managing” the bison population.

The government’s approach to this “problem” brings to mind Maslow’s Golden Hammer (when all you have is a hammer every problem you encounter needs pounding).

Fortunately, there’s still time to propose humane, non-lethal solutions. NPS is granting the public until March 26 to weigh in. Perhaps, if enough of us ask state officials to consider life-affirming solutions we could begin to put our heritage-driven brutality behind us for good. Comments welcomed at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=71123

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society.

Legislators challenge Arizona’s moral progress By Ed Boks

Mahatma Gandhi said it best, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The same can be said of the states in a nation.

In fact, the greatness and moral progress of all 50 states can be traced through the years by the consistent strengthening of state laws against animal cruelty to include felony provisions. This moral and legal progress has been based on the growing understanding of the link between animal cruelty and violence against humans.

Today, academic journals and textbooks in child welfare, human-animal studies, sociology, child development, criminology, psychology, social work, veterinary medicine, and many other disciplines accept the incontrovertible link between animal abuse, domestic violence, child maltreatment and elder abuse.

Understanding this link, the FBI now requires local law enforcement to track and report animal cruelty the same way homicide, arson and assault are tracked – as a Group A felony.

So, why would any Arizona legislator want to turn back the clock on progress that has taken decades to achieve? Why would any legislator want to strip any animal of any protection provided by the law?

Why would Arizona legislators David Gowan and Brenda Barton work behind closed doors with corporate agriculture lobbyists to craft a bill (HB 2330) designed to repeal the few protections millions of animals have in Arizona?

HB 2330 is not an isolated attempt to repeal Arizona’s animal cruelty laws. Last year enough Arizona legislators supported a similar bill (HB 2150) that it would have been the law of the land today except for Governor Ducey’s veto.

Fortunately, this year’s coup against animal welfare may have died in the Agriculture, Water and Lands Committee when they wisely chose to not agendize HB 2330.

However, the bill could still be resurrected by the House Appropriations Committee this year or introduced in another permutation next year. Animal advocates must remain vigilant in a state where politicians seem strangely determined to weaken animal-cruelty laws.

Apart from some Arizona legislators, animal abuse is widely recognized and understood by law enforcement, public health officials and decent human beings everywhere to be part of a continuum of violence with serious implications for multiple victims and society as a whole.

While Gandhi drew our attention to the societal ramifications of how we treat animals, Immanuel Kant provided some insight into how we should judge politicians who deliberately put animals in harm’s way. “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” This maxim serves as a reliable gauge for assessing the character of politicians who have the power to impact how animals, and people, are treated on a massive scale.

Sponsors and supporters of last year’s HB 2150 and this year’s HB 2330 have telegraphed their agenda to reverse Arizona’s moral progress by revoking protections animals in Arizona have benefited from for decades. They have exposed their intent to put the welfare of millions of animals at risk without any corresponding benefit or legitimate justification. They need to know this is not going unnoticed.

Refer to my Feb. 17 column, “Lawmakers target animals again” to understand the risk of cruelty that HB 2330 posed for millions of animals.

Lawmakers target animals again By Ed Boks

Speaker of the House, Republican David Gowan, who is also running for Congress, is one of the prime sponsors of a bill raising serious concerns among people who understand the importance of strong prohibitions against animal cruelty.

House Bill 2330 will delight the corporate agriculture lobbyists who helped craft it to look like an animal protection bill – but in reality, this legislation is designed to repeal the few protections millions of animals have in Arizona.

HB 2330 is nearly identical to the first bill Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed after taking office last year. Again animal-welfare advocates are asking state representatives to defeat a bill intent on weakening the state’s current animal-cruelty laws.

The bill would remove livestock and poultry from Arizona’s definition of animals in the criminal code – stripping them of any protection from anti-cruelty laws. Further, the bill omits the crime of “abandonment” and the requirement to provide medical care to farm animals – both of which are crimes under current law. Under HB 2330, a person could abandon his horse in the desert and leave it to die without penalty.

HB 2330 would also forbid any city, town or county from enacting laws tougher than this watered-down bill. For example, in 1996, the City of Phoenix enacted an ordinance banning home slaughter of livestock following an investigation of people slaughtering goats in apartment complexes. Under HB 2330, local governments will be powerless to address issues like this in their communities.

One bizarre requirement of HB 2330 is that the Department of Agriculture Director has to be notified of any investigation of livestock abuse. The bill actually requires police officers investigating livestock abuse to notify civilians in the Department of Agriculture, thereby compromising ongoing criminal investigations. No other area of law enforcement requires such an outside notification.

HB 2330 not only threatens sensitive animal cruelty investigations conducted by law enforcement, it literally puts the fox in charge of the hen house.

HB 2330 revokes protections that all animals in Arizona have benefited from for decades and puts the welfare of certain animals at substantial risk – without any corresponding benefit or legitimate justification.

Watching the Department of Agriculture trying to undermine existing animal-cruelty statutes begs the question, “What are they trying to hide?” If most farmers and agricultural people treat their animals well, as I am convinced they do, why do they need to be exempt from animal-cruelty statutes?

The Yavapai Humane Society shares the concern of many lawmakers that animal welfare groups were not invited to be involved in the drafting of this bill nor were they even allowed to participate in any stakeholder meetings.

In a letter announcing his veto of a similar bill last year, Ducey explained, “we all agree animal cruelty is inexcusable and absolutely will not be tolerated in the state of Arizona. No animal should be the victim of abuse. Moreover, perpetrators must be held to account and properly penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

“We must ensure that all animals are protected, and [be] mindful that increasing protections for one class of animals does not inadvertently undercut protections of another,” which is exactly what HB 2330 intentionally does.

HB 2330 is bad law. We can do better. Let your state representatives know how you feel.

State sanctions county, municipal feral cat programs by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsThe Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) does not accept feral cats. Taking unadoptable feral cats into an animal shelter is a death sentence and is contrary to the YHS no-kill ethic. Rather than employing the “catch and kill” methodology used by many shelters, YHS champions trap/neuter/return (TNR) as the only viable and humane method for effectively reducing feral cat populations.

The Arizona state legislature recently came out in strong agreement with YHS on TNR. Arizona’s governing body overwhelmingly passed SB1260. The new law encourages animal control to return healthy “stray” cats to the vicinity where they were captured after being sterilized; the very definition of TNR.

Coincidentally, perhaps the strongest scientific support for Arizona’s robust endorsement of TNR comes from a 13-month study conducted by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries in Hobart, Australia. The study, entitled “Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations” appeared in a recent edition of the journal Wildlife Research, 2015. The findings, trumpeted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Discovery Science, and other media, directly contradict the Australian government, and its environment minister Greg Hunt, who has called for the “effective” eradication of all feral cats by 2023.

Biologist Billie Lazenby, who led the study, says she expected to validate the use of lethal culling (catch and kill) promoted by the Australian government but instead found, to her dismay, that culling markedly increases the numbers of feral cats in an area.

Lazenby and her team of researchers used remote trail cameras to estimate the number of feral cats at two southern Tasmania study sites before and after a 13-month “low-level culling.”

However, Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf observed, “The effort was anything but low-level. Over the course of 13 months, researchers managed 2,764 trap-nights-an average of seven traps every day of the culling period. Each trapped cat was, after being left in the trap for up to 12 hours or more, ‘euthanized by a single shot to the head from a 0.22 rifle using hollow point ammunition.'”

“Contrary to our prior expectations,” reported Lazenby, the “number of feral cats rose 75 percent at one test site and 211 percent at the other.” Of particular interest, “Cat numbers fell, and were comparable with those in the pre-culling period, when culling ceased.” Suggesting feral cats fill a stable self-regulated ecological niche.

The researchers ultimately concluded the surprising population explosion was the result of “influxes of new [adult] individuals after dominant resident cats were removed.” A phenomenon YHS refers to as the “vacuum effect.” When cats are removed but natural conditions (such as food sources) remain the deterrents of existing territorial cats vanish and neighboring cats quickly invade and overpopulate the newly open territory.

When culling feral cats, Lazenby now says “You may be inadvertently doing more damage than good.”

“What we should focus on when managing feral cats is reducing their impact; and you don’t reduce impact by reducing numbers.” In fact, a growing number of studies conclusively prove lethal culling induces a biological imperative that causes feral cats to overbreed and overproduce to survive. Counter-intuitively, lethal culling directly exacerbates feral cat problems.

Gratefully Arizona has a legislature who understands the science and through SB1260 is directing county and municipal animal control agencies to recognize TNR as the only viable, humane solution to our communities’ vexing feral cat problems.

Arizona is leading the nation through this ground breaking legislation. How wonderful would it be if Yavapai County and local municipalities took the lead by building an effective and humane trap/neuter/return program on this historic foundation?

Animal abuser registries would protect all of us By Ed Boks

Sex offender registration is a system designed to allow authorities to track the residence and activities of sex offenders. Information in the registry is made available to the public via a website or other means. In many jurisdictions registered sex offenders are subject to restrictions including housing, being in the presence of minors, and living in proximity to a school or day care center.

Efforts are now underway to expand this concept to include animal abusers. Initiatives are gaining support and legislation has been introduced in at least five states, including Arizona.

The Arizona Animal Cruelty Registry Law (HB 2310) would require people convicted of animal torture, mutilation, intentional killings and animal fighting to register with the police and provide an array of personal information along with a current photograph, much like sexual predators. The information, along with the registrants’ specific offense, would be posted on the Internet.

Animal welfare activists hope laws like this will inspire governments nationwide in the same way Megan’s Law registries for child molesters have proliferated in the past decade.

In Florida, State Senator Mike Fasano proposed Dexter’s law, named after a kitten beaten to death in his state. His proposal would require convicted animal abusers to register with authorities. Their names, home addresses and photographs would be posted online, and they would pay $50 a year to maintain the registry.

Registries have also been proposed in Colorado, Maryland and New York and similar proposals are expected in other states.

Suffolk County on Long Island moved to create a registry in 2010, and has since been followed by two other New York counties. No names appear on the Suffolk County registry yet, because it was only recently set up. Convicted abusers will appear on the registry for five years. Those failing to register are subject to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

The New York counties require pet stores and animal shelters to check the names of anyone seeking to adopt or buy an animal against the registry.

Maryland State Senator Ronald Young said he plans to introduce legislation in the wake of two incidents in his state. In one, a Yorkshire terrier was thrown off a 23-foot-high balcony; the dog, Louie, survived. In the other, a golden retriever puppy named Heidi was shot to death.

A bill to create a registry in California, introduced in 2010, didn’t make it through the Legislature, partly because of concerns about its cost.

Liberty Watch Colorado, an advocacy organization committed to holding elected officials accountable, says such legislation is “an unnecessary expansion of government.’

However, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal rights law organization based in California, outlines some taxpayer benefits. For instance, well-managed registries can reduce the number of abused animals and the animal control costs associated with caring for and treating abused animals. They also serve as an early warning system for potentially violent criminals like Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer all of whom tortured and killed animals during their childhoods.

“Researchers as well as FBI and other law enforcement agencies nationwide have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings and the recent rash of killings by school age children,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, vice president of training for the Humane Society of the United States.

Albert Schweitzer said it best when he warned that “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” Registering felony animal abusers not only helps protect innocent animals, it helps protect our families, friends and neighborhoods.

Let officials know your concerns regarding animal cruelty By Ed Boks

It is disheartening to learn of acts of animal cruelty that seem to continue despite the concerted efforts of so many animal welfare agencies dedicated to the prevention of animal mistreatment. We recently learned of an incident where a young man hiking in the forest found two Chow mix puppies that had obviously been abandoned. These little guys were no more than four weeks old, and had been left alone to face whatever fate might befall them.

Fortunately, the fellow who found these pups was able to locate a rescue agency that could take them, and it appears that these two are going to be OK. However, this form of animal cruelty seems to be on the increase. While the cases that are discovered can be quantified, we can only guess at the number of unknown instances that are now occurring with regularity.

Animal cruelty as defined by various statutes is clearly against the law in most jurisdictions. However, vigorous enforcement of the laws is the key to a successful outcome. In Maricopa County, for example, the sheriff’s office has dedicated a team of investigators to check out thousands of animal abuse reports that come in annually. This team has been in place for the past seven years. Involved officials say it’s a way not only to educate the public about the proper care of animals, but also to target abusers who could be working up to violence against humans. Some experts claim animal abuse is often the starting point of an escalation to child abuse, domestic violence, or murder and serial killing.

Closer to home, the Northern Arizona Animal Cruelty Task Force (NAACTF) was formed in cooperation with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s office. The mission statement of this group includes the following: “To increase awareness of animal cruelty laws in Northern Arizona; to enhance and coordinate enforcement of animal cruelty laws; and to educate law enforcement, animal care professionals and other agencies in aspects of animal cruelty and the relationship of animal cruelty to other forms of assault related behavior.” The members of NAACTF include representatives from most of the local animal welfare agencies.

The NAACTF has established an animal cruelty hotline you can call to report instances of animal cruelty. The phone number is 771-3595. You can leave a recorded message with the option of furnishing your name, address and phone number. However, we urge you to exercise good judgment and consider the seriousness of your allegation before making a report. Frivolous reports will only burden the system and dilute its effectiveness.

We acknowledge that much progress has been made over the years through education and various programs by animal welfare groups to increase public awareness of the widespread problem of animal cruelty. Yet it persists. And at times like the present, we seem to be losing ground, especially when we encounter those who don’t realize abandonment constitutes animal cruelty.

More effort needs to be expended. In addition to reporting animal cruelty, you can help by making your feelings known to elected officials. Also, when specific cases are involved, let the presiding judge and other officials know of your concern by insisting on strict enforcement of the existing laws.

The California Humane Farms Initiative by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and factory farmingCalifornians for Humane Farms is an initiative sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Farm Sanctuary and many other animal protection groups, family farmers, veterinarians and public health professionals. This coalition is waging a ballot initiative campaign in California to pass The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in the November 2008 election.

Supporters of the initiative claim The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act asks for only the most basic needs for farm animals: merely the ability to turn around and extend their limbs. It is hard to imagine a more moderate initiative. HSUS explains the purpose of the measure is to prevent three methods of the allegedly most cruel and inhumane forms of extreme confinement in the world of animal agribusiness: veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates. All three of these practices have already been legislated against in the European Union.

Proponents claim the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act will reduce the suffering of nearly 20 million animals confined in California factory farms. The measure will also prevent other out-of-state factory farm operators from setting up shop in our state with veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates. Florida, Arizona, and Oregon have banned gestation crates, and Arizona has banned veal crates. Some major California food retailers are already moving away from supporting battery cages and veal and gestation crates.

Gestation crates are used to confine a sow for nearly her whole four-month pregnancy. Right before giving birth, she is moved from the gestation crate into a farrowing crate – a metal stall designed to separate her from her nursing piglets. After the piglets are weaned prematurely, the sow is re-impregnated and confined again in a gestation crate. Farrowing crates are exempted from this measure.

Nearly 800,000 Californians have already stepped up to sign a petition to put this seemingly modest proposal on the November ballot. The petition calls for all Californians to come together to end what many consider to be the cruelest confinement techniques used on factory farms – both in terms of the intensity and duration of confinement. Petitioners assert that keeping animals so restrictively crated that they can barely move for months on end is cruel and inhumane.

Battle to put Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act on the ballot continues by Ed Boks

A precedent-setting ballot initiative campaign to ban what many consider to be the cruelest forms of confinement in the veal, egg, and pork industries has been underway in California for the past few months.

A total of 650,000 signatures are required to put the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act on the statewide ballot this November, and with just two weeks left, about 90,000 signatures are still needed.

If you are interested in finding out more about this initiative click here for full details: http://humanecalifornia.org/

More background information can be found in an LA Times editorial that ran this past Saturday, entitled “Hard to Stomach”. In it, The LA Times criticized the USDA for failing to prevent abuses recently exposed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in a California meat packing plant. There’s also an Associated Press story about the USDA extending the ban on this plant which has been closed since the story broke on January 30th.

LA City Council approves Spay/Neuter Ordinance! by Ed Boks

The LA Times trumpeted the news in today’s edition, “The Los Angeles City Council voted 10 to 1 today to approve mandatory sterilization of most pets at the age of 4 months or older – a decision greeted by cheers and applause from the crowded room at the Van Nuys City Hall – where the council meets the first Friday of every month.

Los Angles is the largest city in the United States with such an ordinance.

On behalf of LA Animal Services, and the tens of thousands of lost and homeless animals we care for every year, I want to thank everyone who was able to attend Friday’s City Council meeting and anyone who played any role in helping to get the long awaited Spay/Neuter Ordinance passed.

This is a victory for the entire community, whether they were there or not, and whether they know it or not. Soon we’ll have an important tool with which we can make significant progress toward the goal we all aspire, ending euthanasia as a method of pet overpopulation control.

This is a monumental accomplishment and, on behalf of the Department, I congratulate and thank you all.

Urgent Action Needed for Kangaroos in California by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and kangaroos
Help stop legislation that would allow kangaroos to be killed in even greater numbers to supply soccer cleats to Californians

Senate Bill 880, a bill that would allow the sale of kangaroo skins and body parts in the state of California, is sailing through the legislative process. Sadly, it has now passed the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and moves to the Assembly for a floor vote. This means that the kangaroos still need your help. So even if you have already taken action on this issue, please take this opportunity to speak out one more time in opposition to SB 880.

If this bill passes it would erase a law that was implemented in 1970 to protect kangaroos by prohibiting the sale of their skins. A similar bill passed the legislature last session that reversed this protection for alligators, allowing their skins to be sold in California. It is important that the same fate does not befall the kangaroos.

Remind Your State Legislator of these Kangaroo Facts:
Kangaroos are not farmed. They are taken from the wild in Australia, and exist only in Australia.

Kangaroos are shot at night by hunters. Hunters are not always able to distinguish between kangaroos who are “approved” to be killed and others who are endangered. In Queensland, Australia, the Western Grey Kangaroo is not allowed to be killed, but it can be mistaken for the Eastern Grey that is allowed to be hunted.

The existing law that would be changed by this bill was made to protect certain “look-alike” species, so that Californians do not unwittingly contribute to the extinction of a species.

If a kangaroo that is killed is a mother with a baby in her pouch, the baby is taken out and killed by a heavy blow to the head (according to the Australian Code of Practice). Similar methods are used in Canada’s seal hunt; both California and Federal laws prohibit the sale of seal products from Canada because of the cruel killing methods used.

According to official Australian government statistics, kangaroo populations continue to decline and are now the lowest they have been in over a decade. Current populations are well below half of what they were in 2001. (Source: Sustainable Wildlife Industries, Dept of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra, 2006). Reintroduction of the trade in kangaroo skins into California would be disastrous, as there are already too few kangaroos to meet the industry’s demands.

SB 880 recently was modified (amended) in a way that appears at first glance to place a maximum limit on the number of kangaroos that could be killed in a given year. However, the new wording does not provide any real protection and, in reality, could allow kangaroos to be killed in even greater numbers to supply soccer cleats to Californians.

For more information on SB 880 visit:

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/sen/sb_0851-0900/sb_880_bill_20070710_amended_asm_v96.html