Cruelty to farm animals demands exposure – The Washington Post

SO GUT-WRENCHING are the images — cows being shocked, turkeys being stomped, horses being burned with chemicals, piglets kicked like soccer balls — that the videos recorded by animal rights organizations at factory farms are almost impossible to watch. That, though, has helped make them effective tools in the fight against illegal and cruel treatment of farm animals. It’s alarming that a number of states have bowed to pressure from agribusiness and enacted laws to criminalize this useful undercover work.

Other states that are considering following suit should think twice about whether the best way to deal with the important issues of how animals are treated and food is produced is to keep U.S. consumers in the dark. Six states in the West and Midwest have enacted legislation cracking down on the undercover videotaping of animal facilities that has been the foundation of investigations by organizations including the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals. So-called ag-gag bills are pending in six other states, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Some of the measures, the New York Times reported, would make it illegal to secretly videotape farms, livestock ranches, slaughterhouses and other food production facilities or to apply for a job at one of them without reporting an affiliation with an animal rights group. Others, such as one the Tennessee legislature passed this month, demand that any video that chronicles possible illegal activity be handed almost immediately to law enforcement authorities, a seemingly innocuous requirement that would have the effect of preventing meaningful investigations documenting patterns of abuse.

Defenders of the legislation say the videos cast farms and other livestock concerns in a bad light and have caused financial suffering. They say activists use the footage to raise funds and advance their cause of getting people to stop eating meat. Those are weak justifications for extreme legislation that inhibits the rights of employees, denies vital assistance to law enforcement and tramples First Amendment rights. Sufficient laws exist to protect property from trespass.

Animal investigations have proved their value. In 2007 the Humane Society documented unsafe practices at a California slaughterhouse that resulted in the largest recall of beef in U.S. history and a new federal policy to prevent downer cows (cows that cannot stand on their own), at risk for mad cow disease, from entering the food supply. If not for video footage, prosecutors in Tennessee would not have been able to take action against workers using illegal methods to improve the gait of walking horses. The same is true for authorities in North Carolina, who charged workers at a turkey farm with abuse and neglect of animals.

Society demands a level of openness, and America has a proud tradition of people doing good by showing what’s wrong. As you next cut into a steak or crack an egg, ask yourself why an industry that claims it has nothing to hide demands protections afforded to no other.

Cruelty to farm animals demands exposure – The Washington Post.

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Wisconsin woodchuck hunting bill gets cold reception | Herald Times Reporter | htrnews.com

MADISON — A handful of animal lovers tore into a bill that would establish a Wisconsin woodchuck hunting season, blasting the measure as unnecessary during a hearing Wednesday and calling it another sign that legislators are obsessed with killing wildlife.

Only eight people addressed the Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee about the bill. One was the measure’s author, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere. Another was a Department of Natural Resources wildlife ecologist. The others all spoke against the proposal.

“I think the primary (motivation) here is thrill kill,” said Randy O’Connell, 59, of Omro, who described himself after the hearing as a recovering hunter. “This culture, not a heritage, needs to come to an end.”

Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs or whistle-pigs, are beaver-like creatures known for burrowing and gobbling up plants at a manic pace. They’ve been on the state’s protected species list for decades. Property owners can kill nuisance woodchucks but anyone else needs a license.

DNR ecologists don’t have any estimates on how many woodchucks live in Wisconsin, but they say they’re abundant and it’s not clear why they were ever placed on the protected species list. Some experts have speculated wildlife officials wanted to ensure woodchucks continued to burrow because the holes can provide shelter for other animals.

Jacque introduced a bill earlier this month that would remove woodchucks from the protected species list and establish a hunting and trapping season from March 1 through Dec. 31. The bill would prohibit the DNR from setting any bag limits.

Hunters already can kill a wide range of animals in Wisconsin, including deer, bears, wolves, mourning doves, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits and wild pigs. Legislators also have contemplated feral cat and sandhill crane seasons in recent years.

Jacque told the committee his bill is more about maintaining the integrity of the protected species list than hunting. He said there’s no biological or scientific reason why woodchucks deserve protected status.  See full story here:

Wisconsin woodchuck hunting bill gets cold reception | Herald Times Reporter | htrnews.com.

“Wisconsin DNR warns people to leave young animals alone” by Latest News — GazetteXtra

We are happy to see this reminder in today/s Janesville Gazette. “Wisconsin DNR warns people to leave young animals alone” by Latest News — GazetteXtra. However, rather than call the DNR we recommend you first visit one of the two websites below should you encounter injured or abandoned wildlife.

Dane County Humane Society’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center website has helpful information about what to do if you encounter baby bunnies, birds, ducks, geese, or mammals in the wild.

If you are out of Dane County call Wisconsin Humane Society’s 24 hr. tip line at 414-431-6137 or a nearby emergency vet clinic or humane society. Please visit the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center website for more information about injured wildlife.

MADISON—Wisconsin wildlife officials are warning people to leave any young animals they encounter alone.
Department of Natural Resources biologists say many animals give birth in the spring. They say people may spot baby animals that look as if they’re alone and vulnerable in the woods but their mothers are likely nearby and watching over them.
State and federal law prohibit the possession of live wild animals without a license or permit. People can legally possess a wild animal for up to 24 hours to transport it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Hunting critics want a say in Wisconsin’s wildlife management – Isthmus | The Daily Page

Patty Lowry had never been to a meeting of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress before attending the group’s spring hearing last week at Sun Prairie High School. But her interest in the group has grown since she learned it was behind the recently passed state law allowing trapping and expanded hunting in state parks.

“I started hearing that the Conservation Congress had a tremendous amount of power and had a lot of clout with the Department of Natural Resources and the Legislature,” says Lowry, who lives in Madison. The Conservation Congress is an advisory body to the DNR made up of elected delegates from each county.

Lowry was one of the 662 people who packed Sun Prairie’s performing arts center April 8 to elect two Dane County delegates and to vote on numerous matters related to fishing, hunting and conservation. The turnout was higher than average, says Kari Lee-Zimmermann, the staff liaison between the Congress and the DNR, as it was at some of the other meetings held the same night in each of the state’s 72 counties.

Lowry says she and others new to the group turned out because they’re appalled at recent state wildlife management decisions, including those that permit wolf hunting with dogs and hunting and trapping in state parks.

“It’s like waking a sleeping giant,” she says. “A lot of people woke up to this nightmare that they were going to have to wear blaze orange in their state parks. You see it and can’t believe it’s happening.”

This backlash likely cost Matt Rainey his seat on the five-person Dane County delegation, as Melissa Smith beat him out for a two-year term in the first election of the evening. Another incumbent, however, held onto his seat for a three-year term.

In her stump speech, Smith declared that “hunting and trapping in state parks is not a compromise.” She promised to “give the majority in Dane County a voice.”

The DNR board in December scaled back the new state law on hunting and trapping in state parks, allowing these activities roughly two months of the year.

The results of the statewide ballot (PDF) distributed at the spring hearing, however, in which 2,922 people voted in favor of expanded hunting and fishing in state parks and 1,922 were opposed, suggest there could be a renewed push to revisit this issue.

The survey results will be discussed at the May convention of the Conservation Congress, which will then forward final positions to the DNR and its board.

Rob Bohmann, chair of the Conservation Congress, declined to speculate on how the body will vote. But Dan Schuller, director of state parks at the DNR, suggests in a statement that some longtime hunts in select parks could be reinstated. These are special seasons that fall outside the two-month window specified in the December 2012 DNR board ruling. “We are looking at some seasons that were previously approved by administrative rule,” says Schuller.

Lowry is incredulous that this issue might be reopened after more than 2,000 comments — most of them critical — were submitted to the DNR in response to its original proposal that would have allowed longer hunting and trapping seasons in state parks.

“For me it’s an issue of what kind of democracy we have here in Wisconsin,” she says. “Generally majority rules,” she adds. A 2010 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey found that 17% of Wisconsin residents had hunted in the last year.

Melissa Smith has been an active opponent of Wisconsin’s new wolf hunting season, but she says she is not opposed to “ethical hunting.” Lowry, too, says there is a difference between a traditional hunt and one where animals have been corralled and trapped by dogs. “It gets away from hunting and becomes something much more disturbing and inhumane to animals. This is the pleasure of killing for killing.”

But Bohmann, who has been hunting since he was five, defends the use of dogs in hunting.

“My son harvested a bear with the aid of hounds,” he says. “These hunters are not barbaric.”

He himself hunts with a Labrador retriever and says he has spent thousands of dollars on the dog’s training and vet care. One of the best parts of the hunt, he says, is “watching our dogs do what they were trained to do.”

His family also eats everything it kills, he says. “We don’t go overboard.”

Lowry and Smith would like to steer the conservation conversation away from hunting, trapping and fishing. Almost every one of the questions put to the public at the Conservation Congress meeting had to do with killing animals, says Lowry.

“I didn’t see anything about expanding public lands for hiking. I didn’t see anything for biking trails.”

Smith points out that one of the questions asked whether willow stakes, usually protected on DNR-managed land, could be cut since they are often used by trappers to mark and anchor traps.

“Can we talk about wetlands rather than pulling willows for trapping?” she asks.

Bohmann says that the Congress has recently formed an environmental study committee, but that hunting, fishing and trapping have to be part of the discussion since wildlife can destroy habitat.

“We have a responsibility to manage habitat in our state parks,” he says. “But we have an equal responsibility to manage wildlife populations.”

Hunting critics want a say in Wisconsin’s wildlife management – Isthmus | The Daily Page.

Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime – NYTimes.com

Farm-articleLarge-v2If you are not familiar with the term “Ag Gag” it is basically an effort to stop people from filming or photographing an animal enterprise.

On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills. Read the rest of the article here.

Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime – NYTimes.com.

Madison resident hopes to bring voice of non-hunters to Conservation Congress : Wsj

With recent months having brought everything from the state’s first wolf hunt to a noisy debate over trapping and hunting in state parks, non-hunters and animal activists in Wisconsin are arguing that powerful hunting groups are wielding too much influence with the state Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources.

Now, some of those activists are hoping to crash the party of one of state’s most influential pro-hunting groups — the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

Melissa Smith, a Madison resident who has helped lead opposition to wolf hunting in the state, has declared herself a candidate for the Conservation Congress, a popular statewide organization that advises the state Department of Natural Resources on outdoor sporting issues.

Though she said she is not opposed to sustenance hunting, Smith said she is concerned that the voices of non-hunters are not being heard or heeded on issues such as the wolf hunt and the expansion of hunting and trapping in state parks. Both issues are the subject of questions that will be asked at Conservation Congress meetings to be held simultaneously Monday night in every county.

“I’m not an anti-hunter,” Smith said. “But it just seems that a lot of the people involved with the Congress have become so extreme. Wolf hunting with dogs? And hunting and trapping in state parks? That’s why I’m running. I don’t know what else to do.”

Smith plans to run as a delegate at the Dane County meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Sun Prairie High School.

The Conservation Congress was created by the state Legislature to advise the DNR on hunting, fishing and trapping as well as broader conservation issues. Every spring, the group holds meetings on the same night statewide to elect delegates and to vote on a long list of issues. Anyone can attend and cast votes.

This year, in addition to dozens of questions about obscure changes in fishing and hunting rules, the questionnaire includes queries about whether dogs should be used to hunt wolves, whether hunting and trapping in state parks should be expanded, and whether a number of hunting seasons — such as those for bobcats and coyotes — should be extended.

Rob Bohmann, chairman of the organization, said that because of the prominence of several hunting issues in the past year he expects a number of animals rights activists and their supporters to attend meetings and put candidates up for election, especially in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

Delegates are important because they serve on committees and help shape and present the organization’s agenda.

Smith’s candidacy has caught the interest of some groups, such as the Dane County Humane Society, that have not traditionally been involved with the Conservation Congress proceedings.

Others also say they are concerned about the views of non-hunters getting drowned out by outspoken hunting groups such as the Conservation Congress or the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, which helped push the wolf hunting season through the state Legislature.

Few people have been more vocal — and more of a lightning rod — on the issue than Patricia Randolph, an animal rights activist who became the first staunch hunting opponent to be elected as a Conservation Congress delegate when she won a position in Dane County in 1999. She served through 2001 and her term was marked by controversy, including a dustup in which she was warned by Conservation Congress leaders that she would be censured or removed if she spoke against hunting.

Randolph maintains that few non-hunters know about the Conservation Congress and the power the organization wields on hunting issues with both the DNR and the state Legislature. The problem, she said, is that the views of the organization are representative not of the general public but of hunters, who make up a minority of the population. As a result, Randolph said, hunting — including seasons on everything from wolves to mourning doves and proposed seasons on sandhill cranes and even gulls — seems to be expanding even in the face of what she says is opposition from the general public on issues such as wolf hunting or trapping in parks.

“We are totally disenfranchised,” Randolph said.

Smith said she is emphasizing her opposition to wolf hunting with dogs and the expansion of hunting and trapping in state parks. But she said she also intends to push the congress to take stronger stands on conservation issues such as the protection of wetlands.

“The Conservation Congress has changed over the years,” Smith said. “There are very few questions at the meeting about conservation. It just seems to have evolved over the years to become a hunters’ club.”

Bohmann, however, said that the strong push by the hunting community in recent years to add more seasons and encourage more hunters is necessary because as the number of hunters drops, they lose their power to influence decision-makers.

“If we don’t fight for what we have, we’ll lose it,” Bohmann said. “I think we’re more active now.”

Bill Cosh, a spokesman for the DNR, said the agency does pay close attention to the views of hunters and those who participate in other outdoor sports such as trapping and fishing.

“They are not only part of our culture,” he said, “but they are also methods of responsibly managing our wildlife populations.”

But Cosh also said the DNR promotes many non-hunting activities such as camping, hiking, biking, wildlife observation, and skiing.

Bohmann said he welcomes those with diverse viewpoints to attend the Conservation Congress meetings and to run for the delegate positions. But he said that there has to be a willingness to compromise and he expects everyone on both sides of the issues to respect opposing views.

“Everybody has a right to run for the congress,” Bohmann said. “What they need to understand is it cannot be all one way or another. You have to work together. And let’s be respectful. That’s all I ask for. You don’t have to agree with someone but let’s be respectful.”

Madison resident hopes to bring voice of non-hunters to Conservation Congress : Wsj.

Deanna S. Devaul: Speak up for wildlife at conservation hearings : Wsj

Our wildlife is in desperate need of help. The state Department of Natural Resources allows wildlife to be killed in traps and hunted with dogs, which is cruel. Wildlife is killed for fashion, trophies and the thrill of blood sport. Where is our humanity?The DNR has extended trapping to our state parks, and has also extended the hunting and trapping seasons. Where can the public go to enjoy our wilderness that is safe?Your voice matters. Speak up on behalf of our animals by contacting your representatives and attending the Conservation Congress county meetings on Monday. For information: http://www.wiwildlifeethic.org.- Deanna S. Devaul, Madison

via Deanna S. Devaul: Speak up for wildlife at conservation hearings : Wsj.