With nearly half the fiscal year over, Congress finally finished work on the fiscal year 2022 spending bills. The good news is that they contain several important provisions aimed at improving animal welfare.
For one thing, Congress expressed concerns about “the ongoing mismanagement” of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Care Program, which is supposed to ensure the humane treatment of animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Citing media reports about the department’s “inexplicable delays … in acting against blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act,” lawmakers said they intend to monitor the program’s “fulfillment of its statutory and regulatory responsibilities with respect to animals.” The USDA was further instructed to make certain inspection and enforcement reports publicly available through a searchable database. Congress also continued its long-standing prohibition on the licensing under the AWA of Class B dealers who seek to sell dogs and cats acquired from random sources for use in experimentation.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service was told to report to Congress on its current policy for allowing trophy hunting imports. (Congress has been asking for this report for several years, but the USFWS has failed to comply.) The agency was also directed to evaluate trapping practices on USFWS lands, as well as the nonlethal options that could serve as alternatives to lethal wildlife management.
Congress also used the bill to alert the State Department that one of its programs remains under scrutiny. In 2019, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report documenting the unconscionable mistreatment of dogs sent overseas under the Explosive Detection Canine Program. This situation came to light only after a whistleblower—a veterinarian who had worked for the private contractor that trained the dogs—raised alarms about their health and welfare. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2019.) Frustrated with the lack of transparency and accountability in this program since the report came out, Congress told the department to submit a report detailing how it has met, or plans to meet, the OIG’s recommendations. It must also provide “an update on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from, the program since June 2019.”
Research and conservation efforts protecting critically endangered North Atlantic right whales received $21 million—$16 million more than the previous year. This includes at least $4 million for measures such as enforcement and monitoring, and at least $2 million to support an existing pilot program to develop, refine, and test innovative fishing gear aimed at reducing entanglements—a major cause of death for the whales. Much of the funding ($14 million) will be allocated to states to cover costs for the fishing industry to comply with a 2021 federal rule that aims to reduce right whale mortalities and serious injuries from fishing gear. (The rule itself, unfortunately, insufficiently reduces the risks to the whales and should be strengthened.)
The federal Marine Mammal Commission received more money to continue its essential oversight functions. Both the USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service received funding to continue coordinating a nationwide emergency response initiative—the Prescott Grant Program—for stranded, sick, injured, distressed, or dead marine mammals. Additionally, the USFWS was directed to use conservation and restoration funds to help manatees. This species has faced unprecedented challenges, with more than 1,100 dying last year due to habitat degradation and declining seagrass—a critical food source for manatees.
Funding for grants to enable domestic violence service providers to create or expand programs to assist survivors with companion animals was increased from $2.5 million to $3 million.
Conversely, Congress provided only minimal funding increases for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a significant disappointment given the global extinction crisis. A United Nations report warns that 1 million species are now threatened with extinction, yet Congress continues to deprioritize funding for this essential conservation law. A backlog exists, with approximately 400 species awaiting protection under the ESA. For at least 47 US species, time has run out—awaiting protection, they went extinct. Turning a blind eye to catastrophic biodiversity declines by depriving the ESA of sufficient funding is dangerous and irresponsible.