Swimming against the current on National Go Fishing Day


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Today is National Go Fishing Day, a day (like any other) to pretend that fish aren’t sentient beings who feel pain, possess innate intelligence, express social behavior, have memories…and who, like us, just want to live their lives. Instead, our species is encouraged by a multi-billion dollar recreational fishing industry to trick them with bait, “play” them on the end of the line, “fight” them on fly rods, and congratulate our skillful selves as victors when we haul them, gasping and suffering, out of the only universe they know. We perpetuate this cruelty by teaching children to disregard their suffering–they are, after all, only fish and objects of “sport”in numerous summer fishing camps designed to produce enthusiastic little anglers.

Catch-and-release fishing doesn’t let us off the moral hook, either, since mortality rates for hooked and released fish aren’t insignificant, depending on where the hook embeds and how much stress the fish endures. If the hook is deeply embedded, some say it’s best to cut the line and leave it in. You go on your happy way–it’s the fish’s problem now! Yes, one being’s recreation is another being’s agony:

“It would be singularly unethical not to increase protection for fish and other animals who we previously thought weren’t sentient,” says evolutionary biologist and ethologist Marc Bekoff (in a column for Psychology Today). “Teaching our children that ever popular catch-and-release programs are inhumane is a good way to go for making the future for fish and other animals a more humane and pleasant experience.”

But here’s the rub: The monied interests are organized. Trout Unlimited is in the classroom and offers a First Cast program–a “new nationwide initiative to introduce youth to coldwater conservation through angling.” (TU is only one organization–there are many; here’s another.) In a country that celebrates a National Go Fishing Day and conflates conservation with injuring or killing sentient beings for sport, how do we reach the more than 10 million kids who go fishing (2013 statistic) with a message about empathy for fish?

Animal activists are swimming against a powerful current, for sure–but this only makes us stronger for the long haul.
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Learn more:

  • “Fish are sentient and emotional beings and clearly feel pain” by Marc Bekoff; links to additional research, here
  • FishFeel.org
  • “Animal behavior: Inside the cunning, caring, and greedy minds of fish” – By revealing that fish cooperate, cheat and punish, Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution. In Nature, the international weekly journal of science, 26 May 2015
  • Most popular outdoor activities in U.S. 2009-2013, here

Comment on the post over at Animal Blawg!

Let slip the dogs of war: Wolf slaughter is afoot

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Click image for photo credit

Cry “Havoc!” There will be blood…and it will be wolf blood.

Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) has hired a killer to slaughter two wolf packs within the federally-protected Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. This is congressionally-designated,captital-Wwilderness, certainly the one place nature should be allowed to express itself without manipulation by and for humans. Said wolf biologist and PBS filmmaker (“River of No Return”) Isaac Babcock,

Why must two wilderness wolf packs die? “The killing is necessary because wolves and other predators are eating too many elk calves, and the population has not recovered to the agency’s (IDFG’s) goals. …If you’re looking for cost benefits you remove an entire pack,” rather than just members of a pack, according to the state wildlife bureau chief. Keep in mind that wolves (who, according to nature’s plan, eat ungulates–hello?) are seen as competition by camo-clad Homo sapiens gunning for the same prey.

But at 2,366,907 acres, the Frank is vast, wild, and not easily-accessible, and “sport” wolf hunters aren’t effective at reducing population numbers on so large a landscape. Hence the hired gun, whose mission is to ensure that the remote, wild land encompassing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (map) remains a productive elk factory serving special interest groups–hunters, outfitters, and the state management agency in their employ.

Animal advocates who are also public land advocates are baffled how this can not be a violation of the Wilderness Act. District Ranger Anthony Botello (Krassel Ranger District) told the Idaho Statesman, “All of their (IDFG’s) management has to abide by wilderness management rules like we do.” Oh, really? We might ask Mr. Botello how wiping out native predators to manipulate elk numbers preserves wilderness character–the mandate of the Wilderness Act of 1964. According to its author, “The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.” — Howard Zahniser, 1962

Because the Wilderness Act is the law of our land, the U.S. Forest Service needs to explain to taxpaying citizens how allowing Idaho state wildlife politics to trump federal law passes muster. Stay tuned.

And now, for something completely different…

Now let’s check in with Idaho for Wildlife, whose mission is: “To protect Idaho’s hunting and fishing heritage. To fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are attempting to take away our rights and freedoms under the Constitution of the United States of America. To hold all Government and State Agencies who are stewards of our Wildlife accountable and ensure that science is used as the primary role for our Wildlife management.”

These pursuers of truth, justice, and the American way plan to extend the peace and goodwill of the season by conducting a predator-killing derby (“quality time” for parents and kids) in the days following Christmas:

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Click image & scroll down for full size

You can tell right away that Idaho for Wildlife is committed to “science” because the event organizer, a big-game outfitter (website), told a Reuters reporter that “media inquiries were not welcome.” Indeed, the last thing you want is some Nosy Nelly media-type attempting to report (and twist the facts) on the science behind your predator derby! Also, criteria like “largest” and “most” are well-established indicators of the scientific method. Then there’s the campaign of knowledge-based hysteria surrounding the parasites that canids carry–a tapeworm requiring both canids and ungulates for life cycle completion. Never mind that it’s commonly distributed worldwide–it can be transmitted to humans! Be afraid…be very afraid.

Following up on this pervasive and pestilent parasitic plague, Rocky Barker writes in the Idaho Statesman, ” …no recent reports of human infections have been made in Idaho. Three documented cases came before wolves were reintroduced.”

These examples of hubris from the state known for famous potatoes make my state–Montana–seem downright wolf-friendly despite a six-month rifle season and a 2-1/2 month trapping season. As I write, 106 have been killed by projectile, three in traps, and one companion malamute mistaken and slain for a wolf. Just this morning we learned that a protected grizzly bear was caught in a wolf trap on the Rocky Mountain Front. Rifle season is only half over, and trapping season has just begun.

Let’s close with a final thought from the organizer of the predator derby, whose words bode ill for both wolves and their defenders:

He’s right about one thing–we are dealing with a serious disease. But it’s not the wolves who are carrying it. It’s a human disease, and it ain’t pretty.
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UPDATES 1/8/14:Renewed motion for Temporary Restraining Order; 1/6/14:Complaint; Motion for TRO; Memo
UPDATE, 12/30: Derby death results here.
UPDATE, 12/23:Lawsuit aims to stop Salmon, ID killing derby; organizer says it will go on regardless – click here.
UPDATE: NAPA Auto Parts, the only national sponsor of the Idaho for Wildlife slaughter-fest, has pulled out. Visit the Animal Blawg link below and check the comments for details.
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  • PBS Nature: “River of No Return” – 30-second preview here; entire episode here.
  • Find the Wilderness Act text here. Find the nation’s wilderness areas here.
  • Contact Krassel District Ranger Botello: abotello@fs.fed.us; copy your message to the Payette National Forest supervisor: klannom@fs.fed.us

Comment on this post at animal law blogAnimal Blawg.

Harming animals to help humans: when charity isn’t charitable

Pigs in gestation crates: www.all-creatures.org

There’s something terribly uncomfortable about commenting on people and groups doing charitable, humanitarian work where animal exploitation figures in–even if only remotely or tangentially. It feels like badmouthing Santa or ripping on Mother T. Because oppression of other animal species is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of our lives, it’s considered normal or merely goes unrecognized. You know from the get-go that your comments will be perceived as criticism. The nuances of the discussion will be lost. The defensive accusation, “You care more about animals than people,” will come blasting your way to shut down further discussion. Some things shouldn’t be questioned. Period.

Whose heart doesn’t go out to the uninsured family who loses everything in a fire? Or the individual dealing with a devastating illness he can’t afford? When the safety net’s gone missing, compassionate people often step up to provide one, and the warm embrace of the human family surrounds us all. We take care of each other.

But when the missing safety net materializes in the form of, say, a benefit pig roast (as just one example), my heart breaks a little, too. I’m saddened that my immediate family of humans can’t see compassion extending beyond the boundaries of our own species, and that to help our own kind, we’re willing to hurt another kind. The comforting embrace diminishes and a disquieting idea recurs: I don’t really belong. I sit at the edge of the Homo sapiens family gathering, the frowning, odd relation who not only won’t play by the rules, but wants to change them. (Just ignore her–maybe she’ll leave.)

You probably recognize that odd relative if you believe that dignity for one need not come at the expense of dignity for another. If you feel that compassion and justice know no species. If you’re one who sees–actually sees–the foundation of institutional animal cruelty that supports the status quo by which our every-day lives are ordered.

So when I tell you that I was dumbfounded to read that a Habitat for Humanity chapter (an organization I very much admire) raised money by throwing a hotdog eating contest, you’ll understand dumbfounded.

There’s the dissonant idea that an organization serving people in need should sponsor a fundraiser based on gluttonous competition where food is squandered. It felt unsettling and weirdly at odds, but I’ve never been a fan of eating contests, and maybe that’s just my cranky quirk. I’m willing to own it.

When is a hotdog not just a hotdog?

But I’m also one who sees the horror of the factory farm lying in every bun. I so badly want the compassionate people who build homes to recognize that the pig needs compassion–she whose only home will never be anything more than a gestation crate brimming with her body and her despair. Or the chicken, whose “home” is a darkened warehouse where she stands immobile in her own waste–crammed with thousands others–for her miserable 45-day life. Burned raw by ammonia, suffering eye and respiratory ailments–she, too, desperately needs mercy. And the cow? Yes…stunned with a bolt to the brain, shackled and hanging by one leg, awaiting the throat-slitting knife–compassion is called for here, too, in the antithesis of a safe haven. Understanding all this, can a hotdog ever be an agent of charitable kindness?

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Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” According to Volunteering in America, 26.3% of Americans–62.8 million of us–found ourselves through volunteerism in 2010. Another 19 million volunteered informally–simply filling a need where they found one. A good many of us are driven to do good in a myriad of ways: tutoring kids, walking shelter dogs, knitting socks, picking up litter, building trails, visiting nursing homes–acts of giving as varied as the members of our species.

Must service to one species do disservice to another?

But in programs where animals play an involuntary role, the primacy of helping humans usually precludes discussion about what we owe sentient othersevenin (and perhaps especially in) the commission of charity. And why shouldn’t it be this way? Who but an animal rights nudnik is going to whine about harming fish–cold-blooded, finned, scaled, water-dwelling fish–to help humans who’ve been through hell?!?

Just like the hotdog eating contest, dissonant vibes rang out in a couple recent news items pertaining to healing retreats for breast cancer patients and war veterans, with fly fishing as their centerpieces. Under the auspices of national charitable groups, both have at their core the compassionate, generous mission to provide physical and mental healing space for those who’ve suffered. Speaking of what fishing means to her, one enthusiast says, “It’s a tremendously healing, peaceful, fulfilling activity.” Hoping to share the well-being she reaps, she plans to volunteer at next year’s cancer retreat.

But research tells us that fish are sentient–that they feel fear and pain. “Indeed, there is a growing body of science demonstrating that fish are far smarter and more cognitively competent than we have previously suspected,”according to the Oxford University Press description of Do Fish Feel Pain? by biologist Victoria Braithwaite. Professor Donald Broom (University of Cambridge) asserts that “…the pain system of fish is very similar to that of birds and mammals.” (For more on fish brain structures, fear, and pain, visit FishCount.org.)

Marc Bekoff, commenting on Braithwaite’s research, says,

Given the violence done to fish with every encounter (whether their terrified, gasping struggle ends in the frying pan or in a return to the water, wounded), I’m struck by the incongruity of finding peace and healing for one’s damaged self through cruelty to another. Yet is it reasonable to expect anything else in a world where the act of hooking “just” a fish isn’t perceived as cruel?

Nonhuman animals are the largest class of exploited beings on Earth, where the animal industrial complex “…naturalizes the human as a consumer of other animals” for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment. On the one hand, singling out charities for their blindness to the suffering of other species feels unfair when all of society labors under the same condition–when, in fact, our economies depend upon it.

On the other hand, singling out charities (the ones mentioned here are merely examples that randomly presented themselves and were not chosen intentionally) is, perhaps, the place to start the discussion. What is charity if not benevolence? mercy? generosity? compassion? Are these qualities reserved for one species alone? Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s great humanitarians, said, “Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

The holiday season approaches. We’ll be bombarded with requests for donated turkeys and hams to help the less fortunate celebrate seasons of generosity, peace, and hope. Houses of worship, among compassionate others, will distribute the bodies of thinking, feeling beings who suffered from birth to death without a moment of relief, kindness, or hope…ever. The animal industrial complex has convinced us that this is necessary, and good-hearted, charitable people will ensure that no member of our own species goes without.

This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg where comments are accepted.

The wilderness vegan: Hold the cheese ‘n’ skeeters, please!

Hiking the beautiful Beartooths

Let’s say a couple–fairly new at describing themselves as vegan–is backpacking with friends in the Beartooth Mountains along the Montana/Wyoming border. Let’s say the mosquitoes are so thick–zillions of them, dense clouds of them–that they risk inhaling them (check), swallowing them (check), and swat them by the tens in their tent (check, check, check!). They find them floating in their oatmeal and coffee, and plastered into their couscous (check, and check). In spite of the blood-letting, they have a glorious hike above 10,000 feet elevation, are appreciatively reminded of their place in the food chain (this is grizzly country), celebrate one friend’s final-chemo-treatment first-year anniversary, and return happy and rejuvenated with over 100 bites each.

Time slipped away and before we knew it, three or four years had lapsed since our previous backpack trip. During that same interval, we shifted from vegetarian to vegan. Turns out that backpacking as a vegan isn’t significantly different from backpacking as a vegetarian. Macaroni and cheese was the most notable absence, and powdered soy milk replaced powdered cow’s milk. In hindsight, I realize that our bulk-purchased trail mix had some milk chocolate in it. Oops! OK, so we weren’t the perfect vegan backpackers, but we aren’t perfect anyhow, even at home. We are practicing veganism, and willing to cut ourselves some slack. Our hiking boots, after all, were purchased several pre-vegan years ago and are leather. We might never be “perfect,” but the way I see it, that’s not really the do-or-die point.

I think back to the early ’80s when I enlisted a friend to hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s right, never backpacked a single step but decided to walk the 2100 mile AT. We scrapped it due to over-use injuries (mine) after four months and 1400 miles. In those pre-vegetarian days (1985 was my turning point of conscience; I had never even heard the word vegan back then), I was unconcerned about animal ingredients and never thought about animal suffering. Factory farming? Not a clue. We ate canned Vienna sausages on that trip. What a difference 28 years can make!

Nearly three decades later, my husband and I are in our REI Half Dome swatting skeeters with intent to kill and remove. I wonder aloud about this, about ethical vegans engaging in wholesale slaughter of another life form. We momentarily stop, look piercingly into each other’s welt-covered face, and return to swatting inside as the droning hordes outside cover the thin mesh and nylon, seeking blood. Our blood.

http://www.havahart.com/

Mosquitoes aren’t mice, after all. When our house was built nine years ago, mice were built into it along with a then-undiscovered port of entry. We bought a live trap and could have caught and released mice as many times as we cared to set it in a night. We’d turn out the light, start drifting off, and “CLAP!” the trap doors clanged shut. “It’s your turn to empty it.” “No, I’m sure it’s your turn.” One of us would stumble out into the black Montana night, pondering the mountain lion that might prey on us while we compassionately released a field mouse. We bought another trap and ran two simultaneously. When all was said and done and the entry point found and sealed, we’d trapped and released just under 200 mice. We’d long since given up trying to explain to others why we were sleep-deprived zombies. “You’re catching them–and letting them go??? WHY? Surely you know they follow you right back into the house!?!” You can have that fruitless conversation only so many times.

Google just about anything and you’ll find that a) someone has already asked it, and b) someone has answered it, however authoritatively. Do vegans kill mosquitoes? Turns out some do, some don’t. Turns out the line is pretty much where you draw it. Respect for ALL life? Let ‘em live. Concern for SENTIENT life? Your call. Compassion Over Killing has this to say at its Frequently Asked Questions page:

Where’s my line? I remind myself that even the Dalai Lama–the enlightened compassionate one–is not a vegan and not always a vegetarian: ”His Holiness’s kitchen in Dharamsala is vegetarian. However, during visits outside of Dharamsala, His Holiness is not necessarily vegetarian” (official website). I realize that mosquitoes hatch by the gazillions, and their eggs can remain viable for years–even without water. I have to admit, though, that in this case, it’s really not about the individual skeeters, but about me.

Native American legends (Tlinget, for example; Tuscarora and Iroquois) explain how mosquitoes came to be. One typical scenario offers up a giant or monster who preys on the people until killed–cut into pieces, splattered, or burned. Those pieces, blood drops, and ashes become mosquitoes who continue to torment humans.

Will skeeter-swatting for self-preservation in the Beartooths have some similar karmic outcome? Is it substantially different from participating in, say, a coyote killing contest or blasting prairie dogs into a “red mist“? I believe it is, both in complexity/sentience of the target and intent of the agent. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy it…or even have to like it.

This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Save a hog, eat a teacher: Challenging animal agriculture

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From Ethical Eating WordPress.com

What happens when you criticize animal agriculture? I’ll tell you. You’re called a “complete moron.” A “libtard.” An “idiot” and an “a**hole.” You’re told to “shut the f up.” Oh, and look, here’s Yoda in an Internet meme: “The retard is strong with this one.” The local newspaper is labeled a “commie” for printing your guest column (a “direct assault on our culture”), and further accused of printing “a bunch of propoganda [sic] stuffed with opinions.” OK, I’ll cop to the opinions…my column (read it here) appeared on the Opinion Page.

Missoula County (Montana) voters are being asked to pay for a multi-million dollar high school bond to make significant, needed upgrades to infrastructure, Internet capacity, and school security. Included along with these vital necessities is nearly $600,000 for a “full meat-processing center” for the Vocational Agriculture Program. For me–a former teacher–that’s the deal-breaker, and my column outlines why. The reasons are larger than “just” the exploitation of animals, though that alone would suffice.

I didn’t expect to feel the love, but the vitriolic, sometimes apoplectic response was a stark reminder that–in spite of its unsustainable and devastating excesses, its out-of-proportion resource use, its inability to address world hunger, its violence and the human health woes that result from consuming its products–animal ag is not going to go gently into that or any goodnight. The status quo hates change, doesn’t wanna change, and won’t change without a fight. But “status quos are made to be broken,” quips author Ray Davis, and evolving consumer values and advances in humane alternatives just might supplant the fight anyhow.

“Because violence has no place in schools,” I wrote, “taxpayers are asked to fund security upgrades to thwart those whose intentions are violent. Fair enough. At the same time, we’re asked to fund a program that promotes violence against sentient nonhumans (and inures students to it) as part of the curriculum.” And here’s where a major disconnect comes into play: it seems that animal ag people don’t consider it violence to take the life of another who wants to continue living. Said one commenter, disputing a couple of my claims, “Their sole purpose is not to be raised for slaughter. They are learning tools, companions, and teach students responsibility. Animals are not treated as commodities, but as friends.” Though I don’t doubt the sincerity of this response, where do you go with that? (Yes, yes, I know…with friends like that, etc.)

If so inclined, peruse the 100+ combined comments posted to the column at the newspaper’s website (some of the more civil comments appear to be from ag students and industry people) and at the newspaper’s Facebook page (“save a hog eat a teacher”) to see what happens when you challenge animal agriculture and the ag program in your local school. Keep in mind that Missoula recently became the first city in Montana to pass an ordinance banning wild and exotic animal performances (article), meaning that folks around here are just like humans everywhere: they possess well-honed compartmentalization skills that enable us to place some sentient nonhumans (e.g., wild, exotic, and companion animals) in one protective box while relegating others (e.g., “market” animals; “livestock”) to another less compassionate and entirely utilitarian box.

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Learn more:

  • “Is meat sustainable?”Worldwatch Institute
  • “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists,” here
  • FAQ: Processed meat and cancer, AICR (my guest column was written just before the WHO report was released)
  • “Meat-eaters may speed world-wide species extinction, study warns,” Science, AAAS
  • “Cowspiracy,” website; see “facts” for animal ag facts and their source citations
  • “The dangers of industrialized animal agriculture” a must-see short video

Head on over toAnimal Blawgto comment on this post!

First Amendment rights and the pursuit of animal rights

Many decades have intervened since my First Amendment rights were trampled by the FBI. The year was 1970 and Richard Nixon was appearing at the Fort Wayne (IN) War Memorial Coliseum. A group of us from a small, nearby college with a long history of peace activism decided to take in the spectacle; I suppose our clothes and hair tipped off The Man that we weren’t enthusiastic supporters of the Viet Nam war. We were detained, our tickets confiscated “for verification” and never returned.

We were angry. We felt powerless. We returned to school and told our story. It found its way into the Peace Studies bulletin, and that was the end of it. Today, older and wiser and again confronted with a suspected infringement upon First Amendment rights, I knew exactly what to do: Contact the American Civil Liberties Union.

Getting the runaround at the Shrine Circus

2012 Shrine Circus outreach – click image for an account

The Shrine Circus arrives in Missoula, MT for five performances over two days in April. In 2012, a group of us–larger than any other circus outreach up until then–assembled at the Adams Center field house on the University of Montana campus. We were well over the required 100 feet from the entrance, lined up along a plaza-like area and well out of the flow of foot traffic (see picture above). Still, we were highly visible to everyone entering and could offer Break the Chain flyers to any takers. Adams Center officials told us we’d have to leave and stand in the Free Speech Zone elsewhere on campus–nowhere near the circus venue. We protested and were then told we needed a permit. Persistent if nothing else, we tracked down a university vice president; he kindly called in a permit. Campus police made it starkly clear that the Shriners were the paying customers, and we would be tolerated only as long as we complied with demands.

Fast forward to April 2013. Three weeks before the circus, I contacted the Adams Center to set the permit process in motion. “We’re prepared for you this year,” I was told. “We’ve designated a Free Speech Zone for you at the venue.” Cool! I imagined the same perfect location, but now with the First Amendment’s blessing. “Can we approach people to distribute fliers?” A rather reluctant “yes” was followed by, “as long as you don’t shove them in people’s faces.” I assured the administrator this would not happen.

When the day arrived, we found that our Free Speech Zone was far removed from our 2012 location; now we found ourselves well south of the main entrance, which circus-goers approached from the north and west. The required 100-foot mark was even behind a tree! We protested, and the boundary was moved up to just in front of the tree. Many of our signs were no doubt unreadable from our distant position on the grassy knoll, and only if they yelled could we hear the attendees tell us to “get a life.”

Not wanting to jeopardize our ability to deliver even a limited message, I entered the Adams Center to confirm what I had been told by the administrator about flyer distribution. But the rules had changed–handing out flyers couldn’t be allowed as this would impede foot traffic. Hmmm. It was looking more and more like the First Amendment–and even the Adams Center’s own policy–aren’t worth much when the circus comes to town.

Who ya gonna call? ACLU.

Feeling some of the same anger that the Nixon incident produced–but not the same powerlessness–I contacted the Montana American Civil Liberties Union legal division with the story. Six weeks later, I got word that an intern had been researching the issue and legal counsel had determined that the university improperly infringed upon our free speech rights. The message concluded with, “You may be interested to know that some of the leading cases on the subject (of free speech) arise from plaintiffs who are demonstrating/leafleting/educating for more humane treatment of animals!” Interested, yes…but not surprised. To suggest that species other than Homo sapiens are owed consideration if not (shudder) rights themselves is a threat to human supremacy and all that implies–from the very personal (the food we eat, how we are entertained) to the domestic and global economies built on the institutionalized cruelty of animal exploitation.

Our legal counsel pointed out that the University didn’t follow its own policy in dealing with us:

For those with a primary interest in the associated case law:

This is not a large victory for animals. In fact, I’m not sure that it’s rightly called a victory at all; we are merely looking for a prospective remedy, not a judicial finding. But justice for animals cannot be won if their advocates are silenced, and the Fourth of July is the perfect time to celebrate (and demand and safeguard) free speech and our right to protest. Animals have a nearly imperceptible voice on our human-dominated globe, and none in the halls of justice. Supposing those of us who speak in their stead were rendered mute?

The ACLU gets the last word:

Update: When informed of the problem by the ACLU, the university’s lawyer worked with the venue staff to ensure that no further First Amendment issues occurred. Since that time, we’ve conducted outreach and offered brochures to circus-goers as they enter the venue. Friendly security staff is present to ensure that safety–including ours–is maintained. From my perspective, it was a civil and satisfying outcome.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Trapping Muskrat, the mother of humankind (no Muskrat Love here)

From the Yet More Bad News for Wild Animals department: The North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) has just concluded its most successful sale with what it calls “advancing wild fur prices.”

For you bargain shoppers, a squirrel’s skin goes for a paltry $0.63. (Sixty-three cents? For someone’s life?) Top-dollar-getter is the lynx cat (aka bobcat) at $426.31 for a Western animal’s skin (see “pelt” categories here).

NAFA is aggressively marketing to international consumers–particularly young, flush Chinese–with its “Northern Lights” wild fur collection. It’s all about “fun, fantasies and the feeling of just being young and beautiful,” according to its oh-so-breezy website write-up. “The amount of wild fur exhibited at the Beijing Fair shows the growing importance of many species, particularly muskrat, beaver, coyote, red fox and raccoon within the fashion industry, this being outside of the traditional fur retailer.”

Particularly bad news for the North American musquash: The muskrat fur market is booming. More specifically, the muskrat belly fur market is booming, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is “thanks to soaring purchases by Chinese and other newly rich nations that need muskrat fur to line coats and footwear.” That’s right. You mind your own business, pursue the things important to you–engineering a den, gnawing on cattails, nursing your babies, plying the marshy waters and basking in the warm sun, and snap! just like that! you’re ten bucks lining Grizzly Adams’ pocket…and you literally are the lining in Xiulan’s fashion boots.

The fur on a muskrat’s stomach is felt-like and virtually waterproof. This is good and bad. Good, because Nature outfitted the semi-aquatic rodent with the perfect wetlands drysuit. Bad, for the obvious reason (photo). “Rats, as trappers call them, have never fetched a higher price,” reports the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. “An auction in North Bay, Ontario, this month (January) featured 55,000 muskrat pelts — including a bundle, known as a lot…sent by way of an Ohio agent.” Says the trapper: “The Chinese bought them all.”

Muskrats live in families–mom, dad, the kids, and coexist with their neighbors, the Beavers. (Evidence from one den-cam shows muskrats actually livingwith their beaver hosts.)* And like all of Nature’s denizens, they’re an integral part of an intricate web, serving as prey for many species and provider of habitat for others–their feeding activities serve to maintain open areas in wetlands, which in turn provide habitat for birds. Other animals–snakes, turtles, frogs, ducks, and geese—use muskrat lodges and platforms to rest and nest in.

muskrat-will-be-swimming-243x300

Click image for book info

Many Native American tribes place their creation myths on Muskrat’s amazing and able back, and no wonder: “Muskrats can swim under water for 12 to 17 minutes. Their bodies, like those of seals and whales, are less sensitive to the buildup of carbon dioxide than those of most other mammals. They can close off their ears to keep the water out” (Wikipedia).

But let’s get down to brass tacks–or should we say, steel traps, which have nothing to do with respect. Muskrats are killed in body gripping traps, foothold traps (video) (from The FurBearer.com: “if a standard foot-hold trap is used and the muskrat isn’t submerged, it may twist and pull until it escapes, leaving its foot in the trap. This is called wring-off…”), and cage traps set at a den’s under-water opening so the animal drowns. (A primer on muskrat trapping and skinning can be found here.) Lest anyone labor under the misconception that drowning is a peaceful, easy death–a fiction sometimes promulgated by trappers–note this comment at a discussion forum:

Yeah, trapping bites, all right. And what really bites–now that fur is no longer cool in the U.S. thanks to groups big and small crusading against cruelty–is that a global market comes roaring to life, making trim of coyotes from Montana, making lining of muskrats from Michigan. Just so the nouveau riche in China can get their“fun and fantasies” on, NAFA having convinced them this is necessary.

But given that we here in the U.S. are still struggling ourselves to drive the last few nails into the coffin of this anachronistic brutality, we’ll have to be patient with our Asian neighbors. Indeed, they’re already making terrific progress in their animal activism, taking on shark finning, rodeo, and more; in our well-connected, linked-up world, let’s hope their progress comes faster than ours has.

Finally, for those who are wondering, “OK, this is all well and good, but what about the obvious connection between beauty queens and muskrat skinning?” –wonder no longer. The tradition continues in Dorchester County, MD, where Miss Outdoors is crowned on the same stage–and thankfully, prior to–the muskrat skinning contest. Pretty teens vying for one title; men with knives vying for another. Absent is any notion that Muskrat is the mother of humankind.

*The original webcam I posted showed muskrats and beavers co-habitating. That link disappeared, but you can read about it here.

This post also appears at Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

The wolverine: one gnarly dude…who needs our help

Click image for Gulo gulo natural history

Updated 7/5/14: Politics trumps science; USFWS reverses ESA listing proposal – here. Leaked FWS memo is here.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the stinkiest, snarliest, gnarliest, wildest of them all? Why, Gulo gulo–the amazing wolverine–of course!

And the gnarly little being needs our help within the next few days (5/6/13 deadline). Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll probably never see a wolverine in your lifetime, at least not outside of a zoo–and that’s a hideous thought for any wild animal, but especially for this wide-ranging, endlessly-moving dynamo. But even so–a mere few minutes to help save the wildest of the wild? A bargain at any price! Read on…

The First People have a long history with the wolverine on our continent:

Fearless, tenacious, and always on the go, the “skunk bear” is the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family. Their extremely low population densities make them vulnerable to external pressures like trapping and habitat fragmentation, and, indeed, humans hold the top spot for wolverine predation, according to The Wolverine Foundation. You can’t do better than to watch their three-minute video, “The Need to Move“–gorgeous scenery, fantastic wolverine shots, and the lowdown from a top researcher. Watch it and you’ll be ready to go to bat for this wild one.

Wolverines were caught up in predator eradication programs and fell upon hard times in the first half of the 20th century: “To the best of our knowledge,wolverines were pushed back and pretty much extirpated in the contiguous US due to a combination of trapping and, perhaps more devastatingly, poison-baiting intended for other carnivores (primarily wolves)…” (Wolverine Blog).

The Northern Rockies continue to host small pockets of populations; Montana’s has been the subject of intense debate given that trapping continues here–the only state in the lower 48 to allow it. I’ve heard tell that trappers consider the wolverine their “Holy Grail,” and the state management agency stands firmly with trappers–a minute fraction of all Montana citizens (see “Montana will oppose protections for wolverines“).

The real game-changer for wolverines

Though a scrappy, 40-pound wolverine might challenge a grizzly bear for scavenging rights at the Carrion Cafe, there’s one thing wolverines can’t take on: Climate change. Cold temperatures and deep snow aren’t preferences–they’re species requirements. Babies (called kits) are born in birthing dens buried deep in snow–persistent, stable snow greater than five feet deep for security and insulation and lasting well into April and May (source). If Glacier National Park’s glaciers are doomed (video)–some say gone by 2020!–what’s to become of the wolverine? This is where you and I come in. The following comment deadlines have all passed.

(Previous) COMMENT DEADLINE: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm ET

Click here; you’ll find a short summary of the issue–well worth the minute it takes to read. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes listing the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States, thereby protecting the species and its diminishing habitat. Over to the right on that page, you can check the number of comments received since the 90-day comment period opened. As I write, it’s at 9518, having jumped by several hundred overnight. Add your voice by clicking the “comment now” button. If all you’ve got time for is some variation of “Please list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous states,” that’ll do! Click “submit” and you’re done.

Then reward yourself with this 2-1/2 minute video from the author of The Wolverine Way, featuring crazy-beautiful shots of wolverines at work and play in Glacier National Park. Can’t get enough? Here a wolverine takes on an intruding black bear. Guess who wins?!? Want more? Wolverine vs. wolf…wow, check out the headlocks! Betcha can’t guess who walks away with a bloody nose!

If, by now, you’ve been bitten by gulomania, welcome to the club! Supporting ESA listing for this bodacious brawler is the most important thing you’ll do today, and if wolverines were known to display genteel manners, maybe they’d roar their thanks your way.

Then again, maybe they’d just as soon rassle you into a headlock.
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Also: The Wolverine Foundation’s kids page; map of worldwide wolverine distribution; “Whither the wolverine” at Counterpunch
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Nov. 2013: The comment period on wolverine listing was re-opened on 10/31/13. Click here for info and links. Comment deadline is Dec. 2, 2013.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

A tale of two wildlife babies–and human motives for good and bad

Photo: Four Rivers Fishing Co. via AP

A newborn moose calf. A fast-moving river swollen with spring runoff. But for the presence of humans willing to intervene–a fishing outfitter and his client–the calf’s probable drowning in Montana’s Big Hole River would have passed unnoticed. Mom Moose–she herself struggled against the current–would have spent frantic moments scouring the riverbank. And because grief is not the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens, it can’t be said, categorically, that she would not have grieved the loss of her little one.

I would rather a newborn moose live a full life; I’d be heartbroken to witness one’s death. But I also recognize that human values come into play here, and that nature isn’t cruel (as many are fond of claiming)–nature just is. Some animals live; other animals die. Fanged predators eat some animals; disease and rivers eat others. Mom Moose miscalculates. Or Baby Moose isn’t the fittest one to survive. The little body becomes nutrients for others and for the Earth. Wrote Emerson, “…there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.”

But that scenario didn’t play out. “Anglers save baby moose on Big Hole River” read the headline in our local paper the other day. What was bad luck for fish was good luck for moose; the calf was plucked from the current and delivered to the riverbank where mom was waiting. The outfitter posted the happy story on the company’s Facebook page, where it had nearly 200 “likes” within hours. Three days later, it had over 12,000 and had been picked up by Huffington Post, MSN, USA Today, and so many more. A comment posted to our local newspaper summed it up: “I love this story. Anything with an animal in it. Thank God for our humanity in dealing with animals.”

Jim Peaco image

Humanity gone missing and captured on video

Let’s turn the page on the lucky moose calf media sensation in the Big Hole River and peruse the next page on the not-so-lucky bison calves struggling–where are the media?–in the Madison River. Formed by the confluence of the Firehole and the Gibbon rivers, the Madison flows out of Yellowstone National Park swollen with snowmelt in late spring. The Yellowstone area’s shaggy, wild bison use the river valley to exit the park, as well, in search of nutritious, early spring grass at lower elevations. Moms give birth on sunny slopes and eat their fill after a long, harsh winter.

But politics is a cruel taskmaster and native, wild bison aren’t tolerated on land that “belongs” to cattle (including, even, our collectively-owned public land!). Their peaceful respite is shattered when Montana’s livestock industry demands that bison be driven off their own traditional, migratory habitat–even when no cattle are present–and back into the park. Personnel from five state and federal agencies mercilessly haze the animals on horseback, ATVs, snowmobiles and with vehicles and even helicopters, running them for exhausting miles before forcing them into the swift river where calves are nearly overwhelmed in a current so strong that even grown bison struggle. Grassroots advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign has filmed the harrowing river crossing (watch it here) along with brutal helicopter hazing (watch it here; if the tiny, injured–and doomed–calf at 1:50 doesn’t break your heart, you might not have one).

I wish the 12,000+ folks who “liked” the baby moose story just as equally “disliked” the baby bison abuse (but of course, they’d have to know about it, first). After all, they have more invested in it–our tax dollars are funding the persecution. I wish they could see the irony that I see: “Our humanity” and compassion rescue one baby from a perilous river, while our greed and a market for beef drive other babies into a perilous river. Though it’s not as easy as clicking a “like” button, I wish they could take action that might actually make a difference.

If just half–heck, even just a third–of those 12,000+ would send an e-mail to Montana’s governor (click and scroll to bottom) protesting this abusive wildlife action, and/or would send just a buck or two to Buffalo Field Campaign to fuel their grassroots activism (they operate on the thinnest of shoestrings), what a difference we might make!

But “liking” a baby moose rescued from random danger is easy. It’s warm, fuzzy, and casts a collective glow that makes us proud of our humanity. Going to bat for baby bison intentionally put in harm’s way asks more of us individually. It demands moral certitude and effort, and perhaps reminds us that dietary choices aren’t always benign. It demands that we act to correct a wrong–not just click to express a “like.” It requires that we not just thank God for our humanity in dealing with animals, but that we actually exercise it.
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For a more in-depth look at the politics driving bison mismanagement in Montana, visit Encyclopedia Britannica Advocacy for Animals– “Wild bison in the American West: Beloved icons inside Yellowstone National Park; persecuted and slaughtered outside its boundaries”
Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Win a few, lose a few: Animal fighting, commercial breeding get another pass

pitbull-puppies-rescued-from-dogfighting-ring

Dog fighter in training (ASPCA image) – click for story

Seventy percent of U.S. adults have a favorable opinion of the animal protection movement–so says recent research–which leads me to think that the other 30% serve in the Montana legislature. Animals lost what should have been a couple of slam-dunks during the 2015 biennial session, but that’s not unusual in a state where the unofficial motto might be “if it’s brown, it’s down; if it flies, it dies; if it hooks, it cooks.” Wildlife are under constant siege from arrows, bullets, hooks, and traps, while laws protecting companion animals don’t have a prayer if they can be twisted–no matter how remotely in the exploiters’ minds–to hold rodeo and animal agriculture to some minuscule standard of decency.

In the ‘animals win’ column is the defeat of a bill strengthening Montana’s ag-gag law (defined here)–the Treasure State having passed one of the nation’s earliest (1991). This year, an attempt was made to add a quick reporting law, requiring witnesses to report animal cruelty within 24 hours or be charged with animal cruelty themselves (read SB 285 here). The bill’s Republican sponsor fretted that animal rights people, conducting undercover investigations in factory farms and other animal hellholes, would hang onto evidence to use when the time is right–he mentioned Christmas–to raise money and gain members (listen in here). The reality? Because gathering documentation that establishes a pattern of abuse happens over time, forced 24-hour reporting stymies the ability to build a case for prosecution. No time? No case. This bill got the Big Needle–and deserved it.

Another win for animals (and taxpayers) was the defeat of HB 179, a bill aiming to eliminate the ability of law enforcement to call on humane organizations to help with rescue and subsequent sheltering in alleged cruelty cases–think puppy mill busts or hoarding cases. Listen to the bill’s Republican sponsor as she conflates the Humane Society of the United States with your local rescue shelter and trots out the bogeymen of extremism and terrorist threats. Would Montana’s 2011 malamute puppy mill bust have even been possible without outside rescue operations and shelter organizations assisting law enforcement (video)? Or the epic rescue of 800 neglected sanctuary animals in Niarada beginning in late 2010? Putting this wacky bill down was the humane thing to do.

In the ‘animals lose’ column, a couple of significant defeats offset these wins, starting with the failure–yet again–of a commercial pet breeder regulation bill (Dem-sponsored HB 608). Montana remains one of several states without any regulation–which makes our huge, rural state with its abundant isolation (did you check out that malamute video?) and no oversight look good to exploiters. Enacting minimal standards to regulate large-scale breeders would seem like a no-brainer, but the American Kennel Club–the so-called “dog’s champion” —lobbied against the bill.

Exploiters also perceive the dreaded slippery slope: A few years ago, I attended a pro-horse slaughter seminar (offered, incidentally, by the sponsor of HB 179 before she ran for the legislature) where a Wyoming legislator told this whopper: “USDA is overregulating dog breeding to an incredible degree and it’s bleeding over: Well, we inspect dogs, why can’t we inspect sheep?” (Peruse these 33 pages of violations and inhumane but legal conditions at USDA-licensed breeding mills.) What kind of warped logic is this? Sheep aren’t even covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act when used for food and fiber, yet the fear of having inspectors look in on their welfare is so great that cash-crop companion animals must pay the price in suffering?!

Finally, a huge and shameful loss is the failure of bipartisan HB 378, yet another attempt to close the state’s dog fighting spectator loophole–a circumstance resulting from an omission in the original bill’s text. Montana remains the ONLY state where a spectator can legally attend a felony dog fight. Spectators matter because they enable dog fighting–making it lucrative (admission fees, wagers) and providing cover for criminal organizers who melt into the crowd if The Man shows up. “If you don’t have a penalty for being a spectator, everyone becomes a spectator,” said bill sponsor Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Billings. “It’s like a kegger where everyone scatters” (source). HB 378’s original language read,

But even this was too much penalty for some on the committee, and ‘shall’ was replaced with ‘may’ while $1500 was reduced to $500. And still the bill failed in the Senate after passing the House. Why? For one senator, it was simple spite:

For others, it was the inability to think critically:

Law enforcement, legal personnel, and animal control officers have repeatedly called for a spectator bill, asserting that spectators thwart finding and prosecuting fight organizers. How convenient that, when busts can’t be made, legislators like these have “proof” that dog fighting isn’t a problem! And suggesting that the bill’s intent was to sneak animal rights into Montana law is bald-faced ignorance when 49 of 50 states impose spectator fines, jail time, or both. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for this senator–for all of them who threw animals (maybe even your companion dog and mine) under the bus for their petty biases, cruel selfishness, and inability (or worse–refusal) to evaluate facts and act for the public good.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Republican-sponsored SB 334, which redefined “fur bearers” (animals trapped for the commercial value of their fur) as “game animals” in an attempt to bring trapping in line with Montana’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to “harvest” wild fish and game–thereby thwarting any citizens’ ballot initiative to eliminate the cruel anachronism of trapping on public land. This wily bill made it clear to the governor’s desk, where the “unintended consequences” resulting from self-serving, legislative meddling moved him to harvest it with his veto gun.

Montana is often called the last best place, and it is–for criminals who fly under the radar, capitalizing on illicit gatherings where dogs (or roosters) rip each other to bloody shreds (graphic photos). It’s also one of the last best places for puppy millers who leave in their wake the living detritus of their cash crop–unhealthy, neglected animals and worn-out breeder moms facing physical and psychological problems for the rest of their lives. For the animals, Montana isn’t the last best place–it’s often just the last place.
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Learn more:

  • All states’ ag-gag laws – here
  • Puppy mill regulations by state – here
  • Other Nations puppy mills page
  • Federal & state dog fighting statutes
  • “Spectating at dog fights: Still legal thanks to…rodeo?” – blog post written after the 2013 spectator bill lost. Contains links to videos, FAQs, and “Dogfighting: The Voiceless Victims” exhibit.
  • Added 1/3/17: “Learning about dog fighting in order to stop it,” Boston Globe.
  • Bait dog found with duct-taped muzzle, extreme injuries – news report video

Comment on this post at Montana Cowgirl political blog–where it appears as a guest post.