Find out how Donald Trump’s administration is likely to impact animal protection in this special episode of Animal People World News!
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Presentation & editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Theme music: “Praetor,” courtesy Ross Bugden: <https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQKGLOK2FqmVgVwYferltKQ/>
Hello! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for Animal People World News.
Donald Trump has now completed his first full month as President of the United States. During his campaign, Trump positioned himself in opposition to animal protection causes with his video ad #Heartland4Trump, which presented hunting and fishing as traditional American values under attack by the political left.
Donald Trump’s sons, Donald Junior and Eric Trump, have long been avid trophy hunters, photographed killing animals including elephants, buffalo, leopards, and crocodiles. The sons, who now control their father’s businesses, served on Trump’s transition team and played key roles in selecting the members of his cabinet.
So far, animal protection issues have not been a major priority for the Trump administration. Nonetheless, many of his policies already portend major direct and indirect impacts, both for animals and their human advocates.
REGULATIONS FROZEN ON ANIMAL PROTECTION
One of President Trump’s very first actions upon taking office was to order a freeze on all new and pending federal regulations until his administration has had time to review them. Regulations approved under Obama, but which had not yet taken effect, had their effective dates postponed by sixty days. The regulations affected by the freeze include several pertaining directly to animal protection.
One such regulation, finalized during President Obama’s final week in office, was designed to close loopholes in the 1970 Horse Protection Act to prevent the cruel practice of horse soring. Soring refers to several painful methods used to cause Tennessee walking horses to lift their front legs while walking, an unnatural step known as the Big Lick. While already illegal, soring remains commonplace among walking horse trainers, partly because the industry is allowed to appoint its own inspectors. The new regulation would require horse inspectors to be licensed by the USDA, and specifically prohibit common soring methods including the use of weighted horseshoes, ankle chains, and painful chemicals.
Another regulation, finalized the day before Trump’s inauguration, would increase animal welfare requirements for meat, dairy, and egg producers to be certified organic. Its requirements for organic farms would include banning forced molting of birds and mutilations such as debeaking and tail docking, requiring space to move freely and daily outdoor access for farm animals, and bolstering inspection procedures at slaughterhouses. Originally scheduled to take effect on March twentieth, the regulation has now been delayed until May nineteenth.
Finally, a regulation listing the Rusty patched bumblebee as endangered has been postponed from taking effect, from February tenth until at least March twenty-first. The Rusty patched bumblebee is the first bee species to be listed as endangered in the United States. Many species of bee are in decline worldwide, due to a combination of factors including disease, pesticides, climate change, habitat loss, and possibly radiation from mobile phone towers. As around a third of all crops are pollinated by bees, their dwindling numbers carry grave significance for human life as well. Despite this, farmers and energy companies have lobbied against endangered species protection for the bumblebee, which could interfere with their operations.
It is not unusual for new presidents to temporarily freeze regulations proposed under their predecessors, and doing so does not necessarily mean the regulations will be scrapped. However, Trump has staked a hardline position against government regulations in general, and on January thirtieth signed an executive order requiring that the cost of all new regulations be offset by eliminating already existing regulations. While signing the order, Trump commented,
“If you have a regulation you want, number one we’re not going to approve it because it’s already been approved probably in seventeen different forms. But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation.”
Given the president’s hostility to new regulations, and his administration’s generally poor record on animal issues – which we will discuss shortly – the prospects for strengthening legal protections for animals under Trump seem grim.
Sadly, the loss of existing welfare and conservation laws seems much more likely. Already, the House of Representatives has voted to lift a ban on cruel hunting practices in Alaskan wildlife refuges. If the bill, H.J. Resolution sixty-nine, passes the Senate, it will again permit hunters to kill bear, wolf, and coyote mothers and cubs, including with snares, leghold traps, and by luring them with food to their deaths.
Republican senators have also held hearings to, quote, “modernize” the Endangered Species Act, which they argue violates states’ rights and impedes land development and industry. Proposals for reforming it include limiting the number of species that can be protected, reducing funding for species conservation, or even repealing the Act entirely.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS THREATS TO WILDLIFE
So far, wild animals have suffered the greatest losses under the Trump administration, due largely to its policies on the environment.
Climate change is already causing mass death and suffering for wildlife. Within the United States, climate change has been implicated in mass starvations of Guadalupe fur seals, left without food as the fish and squid they prey upon migrate north in search of cooler waters. On land, forests across the U.S. and Canada are falling prey to bark beetles, parasitic insects whose numbers are normally curtailed by winter freezes, but have spiked unsustainably due to rising winter temperatures. As forests suffer and die, so too do the animals who reside in them.
As climate change accelerates, ecosystems are projected to shift worldwide, with many species being forced to migrate into more hospitable regions. While obstructing wildlife is not its intended purpose, Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border could severely impede such migrations, potentially endangering many species of animal. Biological research along the seven hundred miles of already existing border barriers has shown severe negative impacts on animals currently living in the region, ranging from frogs to deer to ocelots and jaguars. As a Department of Homeland Security project, the new border wall is not required to pass environmental review, and Trump has already ordered construction to begin.
Despite the severe harms already caused by climate change, and overwhelming evidence that human industry is mostly to blame, Donald Trump consistently denied the reality of either during his presidential campaign. Since his election, Trump has admitted that there might be, quote, “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. He has also indicated that the United States might remain a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, despite promising during his campaign to withdraw from the agreement.
SCOTT PRUITT TO HEAD ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
However, on the whole the Trump administration has proven hostile to combating or even allowing research on climate change. During his first week in office, Trump issued a gag order forbidding the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing news releases, posting to social media, or speaking to the press without official permission. On Friday, February seventeenth, Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, Scott Pruitt, was confirmed by the Senate. As attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the Environmental Protection Agency fourteen times on behalf of the state’s oil industry, and argued that it should not regulate greenhouse gas emissions. His official biography describes him as,
“A leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Within the coming week, Trump is reportedly planning to issue between two and five executive orders on restricting or restructuring the EPA. The exact content of the orders is not yet known. However, according to Myron Ebell, the outspoken climate change denier who led Trump’s EPA transition team,
“What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty.”
RYAN ZINKE FOR SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
Wild animals and their habitats might fare slightly better under Ryan Zinke, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of the Interior, who if confirmed by the Senate will oversee management of the country’s national parks, public lands, and natural resources. Zinke, a Montana state representative, has a mixed record occasionally supportive of environmental protection. He acknowledges the reality of climate change and supports investing in alternative energy sources, though he also promotes coal and natural gas extraction, calling for a, quote, “prudent” balance between environmental and economic concerns. He has at times broken with Republican party ranks by opposing the transfer of federal lands to state control for development or sale.
However, despite touting himself as a staunch defender of public lands, Zinke has sometimes voted the opposite way as well. In March 2016, he voted to allow logging, road and dam construction in wilderness areas, in order to improve access to hunters and fishermen. In June, he supported a bill transferring four million acres of national forest to the states for development and resource extraction. He has also opposed restrictions on cattle grazing to protect endangered species, which earned him an endorsement from the United States Cattlemen’s Association.
David Bernhardt, a solicitor who served as the Interior Department’s top attorney under President Bush, is reportedly the frontrunner to become Interior Deputy Secretary, the department’s second most powerful official. Bernhardt has a relatively positive record on wildlife protection, having helped expand protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts in the past.
SONNY PERDUE FOR SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
Of the members of Trump’s administration, Sonny Perdue, the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, has the most extensive prior record on animal issues. Since the USDA governs animal agriculture and is charged with enforcing federal animal welfare laws, Perdue will likely also have the biggest direct impact on animal protection if confirmed by the Senate.
As governor of the state of Georgia, Sonny Perdue signed several pro-animal bills into law. In 2008, he passed a law making dogfighting a felony, and attending dogfights a misdemeanor. In 2010, he banned the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers to euthanize animals in shelters. A licensed veterinarian, he has also volunteered at the Atlanta Humane Society, where in 2005 he neutered a dog to call public attention to pet overpopulation and the need to sterilize dogs and cats.
However, despite his clear sympathy for companion animals, when it comes to wildlife and farm animals Perdue’s record is considerably less positive. He is an avid hunter, and has attended Dooley County’s annual dove hunting event every year since 2003. In 2009, he signed a law forbidding local governments from regulating animal welfare or pollution in factory farms, and protecting hunting and fishing on private farmlands. Perdue’s state of Georgia is the nation’s top producer of broiler chickens, and the National Chicken Council has endorsed his appointment to head the USDA, saying,
“He is a welcomed choice from the ‘Broiler Belt.’”
Perdue also carries the approval of Protect the Harvest, an organization that promotes animal agriculture, hunting, fishing, and puppy mills, and funds opposition to animal welfare campaigns. Protect the Harvest’s executive director, Brian Klippenstein, was a member of the transition team that selected Perdue. The organization’s founder, oil industry executive Forrest Lucas, himself reportedly pulled strings to block several alternative candidates before allowing Perdue to be nominated.
USDA REMOVES ONLINE ANIMAL WELFARE RECORDS
Perdue is currently awaiting confirmation by the Senate. In the mean time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has alarmed animal activists by removing all animal welfare records from its online public database. The purged documents include records of animal welfare violations and inspection reports for institutions that work with animals, such as laboratories, circuses, zoos, and dog breeders.
PETA, Born Free, the Beagle Freedom Project, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and other animal advocacy groups have sued the USDA to restore the documents, which they use to monitor the treatment of animals by industry and target acts of cruelty for protest.
On Friday, February seventeenth, some of the purged documents were restored to the USDA website, including inspection reports for certain laboratories that use animals. In a public statement, the Department of Agriculture explained that,
“The reports posted are part of a comprehensive review of the documents the Agency removed from its website in early February and are in the same redacted form as before. … As announced on February seventh, 2017, the agency will continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for reposting.”
The restored documents likely will not contain information on animal abuse cases currently pending trial. Parties accused of animal welfare violations, but not yet convicted, have long argued that being listed on the USDA website is a violation of their due process and privacy rights.
Two horse trainers charged with cruelty under the federal Horse Protection Act recently sued the department on these grounds. They had been accused of training Tennessee walking horses using painful soring practices to force a high-stepping gait. TWH Facts, a website for Tennessee walking horse enthusiasts, claims that the USDA’s decision to restrict access to animal welfare records was a direct result of this lawsuit.
PRO- AND ANTI-ANIMAL INFLUENCES IN TRUMP’S CIRCLE
Animal advocates may take some comfort in the fact that despite his cabinet members’ mostly poor stances on animal issues, Trump’s inner circle also contains some animal lovers. Although Donald Trump’s sons are avid trophy hunters, his daughter-in-law Lara Yunaska Trump is an animal shelter volunteer and advocate for no-kill sheltering with the North Shore Animal League. Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-president and first in the line of succession, has a mixed voting record on animal issues. As a congressman for the state of Indiana between 2001 and 2013, Pence earned scores from the Humane Society Legislative Fund ranging between zero and fifty-six out of one hundred. In his personal life, however, Pence is a devoted pet lover, counting two cats, a rabbit, and a snake among the members of his family.
Unfortunately, on the whole the Trump administration’s friendship appears reserved for people who exploit animals, rather than non-human animals themselves. This is certainly the perception of the meat and hunting industries. In early January, several associations of cattle and sheep farmers jointly issued a set of demands for Trump to address within his first hundred days of office. These include ceasing all protections for the sage grouse and its dwindling natural habitat, and reducing the population of wild horses and burros, who compete with livestock for grazing territory.
During a recent convention in Las Vegas, the hunters’ group Safari Club International auctioned off trophy hunting packages to raise funds for lobbying. The packages, valued at around five point three million U.S. dollars, will permit the killing of some one thousand animals worldwide, including zebras, giraffes, polar bears, and many other species. The money raised will be spent on lobbying the Trump administration for policies benefitting trophy hunters at the expense of wildlife protection.
TRUMP ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE RIGHT TO PROTEST
Finally, in preparing for the likely impact of Trump’s administration, animal activists will be wise to consider also the president’s views on freedom of speech. Donald Trump has attacked the press on numerous occasions, tweeting that “any negative polls are fake news” and “the fake news media… is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.” After the media reported facts at odds with Trump’s exaggerations of his inauguration crowd size, press secretary Sean Spicer threatened,
“We are going to hold the press accountable.”
Trump’s gag orders targeting the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, included the deletion of social media posts contradicting the president’s claims regarding climate change and his inauguration crowd size. Besides restricting media access to government information, measures directly targeting freedom of the press could be in the works as well. During his campaign, Trump pledged that he would open up libel laws in order to sue media organizations for reporting unfavorably on his actions.
“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
Also during his campaign, Trump on several occasions encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies.
“If you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell – I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.”
As president, Trump so far has taken a more respectful stance toward protesters, tweeting about the Women’s March in D.C.,
“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
However, at least eleven states are now considering bills to restrict the rights of protestors, all introduced by Republicans. In the state of Washington, state senator Doug Eriksen, who happens to be a member of Trump’s EPA transition team, has introduced the Preventing Economic Disruption Act. If passed, the act would increase prison sentences for acts of protest meant to obstruct commerce. Eriksen has previously argued that interfering with commercial activities should be classified as a form of terrorism.
In Colorado, a bill targeting environmental activists would reclassify tampering with oil or gas equipment, currently a misdemeanor, as a felony.
And in Tennessee, a bill to protect drivers who accidentally injure protesters from being sued has now been signed into law. Similar measures cracking down on protesters who block traffic have been introduced in Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and North Dakota. Other bills targeting protestors have been introduced in Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Animal People will continue to cover the Trump administration’s future actions as they affect animals. For more information on animal protection issues worldwide, please visit the Animal People Forum. Also like this video, and subscribe for future episodes of Animal People World News.