Before leaving Washington for the winter holidays, Congress acted on a number of important bills related to animal protection.
On December 19, President Bush signed the Captive Wildlife Safety Act into law. This important bill prohibits the interstate transport of exotic big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars or cougars for private ownership as pets. Keeping these animals poses a serious risk to people, their companion dogs and cats, and the wild animals themselves. When the bill was approved by the House Resources Committee, its lead sponsor, Howard "Buck" McKeon, said: "These exotic cats are wild animals, hard-wired to hunt and kill, and they must only be handled by those equipped with the proper education and training."
Meanwhile, the United State Senate passed the Marine Turtle Conservation Act, which would enable as much as $5,000,000 to assist in the global efforts to protect these endangered reptiles. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved the measure on October 17, "Because marine turtles are long-lived, late maturing, and highly migratory, they are particularly vulnerable to human exploitation and habitat loss." The House is considering the bill.
Meanwhile, Congress eviscerated decades of environmental law by granting the Department of Defense broad exemption from the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act through "riders" tacked onto the National Defense Authorization Bill. Prompted by a series of court victories of opponents of the Navy's Low Frequency Active Sonar, the change essentially allows the military to kill marine mammals anywhere on earth and alter endangered species habitat found on bases when they are deemed to interfere with military deployment or training. Instead of applying for an "incidental take" permit from the responsible government agencies, the military now need only win approval from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Not every Representative was snowed by the Pentagon. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) delivered a powerful rebuke on the floor of Congress:
"Instead of addressing real threats to readiness, the administration and Congress is [sic] taking on an easier target, the dolphins….
"The bill would take out one of the key provisions of the ESA by requiring that only critical habitat that is deemed necessary shall be designated. Without a definition of necessary, this invites abuse and applies to all Federal lands, not just the Department of Defense….
"The bill also includes the Department of Defense proposal eliminating critical habitat designation altogether on lands owned or controlled by the military….
"The authorization bill weakens the Marine Mammal Protection Act, weakening the current definition of harassment of marine mammals. It applies to all ocean users, not just the Department of Defense.
"Finally, it allows the Department to exempt itself from the Marine Mammal Protection Act for anything necessary for national defense. It excludes any meaningful involvement of the wildlife agencies, the States, Congress and the public in review of these exemptions.
"Our military activities are the largest source of pollution in the country. We are the wealthiest and most powerful and most polluting country in the world. We ought to be able to figure out how to better address this problem without compromising the environmental survival of what we are fighting to protect."
AWI works toward the day that "national defense" includes the protection of all life within our lands and waters.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Urge your Representative to cosponsor H.R. 857, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (see facing page), and to support House passage of S. 1210, The Marine Turtle Conservation Act.
Address Representatives as: The Honorable (full name), United States House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.
Visit AWI's web page for information on other significant animal protection bills. Check www.compassionindex.org for updates and actions you can take to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill.