Victory for Wild Horses: Another Chance for Devil’s Garden

Posted by on August 28, 2017

Victory for Wild Horses: Another Chance for Devil’s Garden

For more than a century, federally protected wild horses have made their home in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeast California’s Modoc National Forest. In a major legal victory for those horses, an Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit filed in 2014 has blocked the federal government’s plan to remove protections for a significant portion of the territory and round up the majority of the horses.

Over 400 horses live in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, which was established in 1975 after the animals were granted protections in 1971 under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The territory is federally managed by the Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which shocked horse advocates when it announced plans to dramatically reduce the size of the protected lands and consequently doom horses on unprotected land to dangerous roundups. Roundups involve diverting horses into corrals using helicopters, separating them from their families. While horses are sent to a facility for “adoption,” that frequently leads to their sale for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the Forest Service to halt their plan and retain as many protections as possible for the wild horses of Devil’s Garden.

The Devil’s Garden territory initially consisted of two discrete sections of land, but in the 1980s, Forest Service maps drew the territory boundaries to include a new “middle section” linking the original plots of land. Subsequently, the Forest Service consistently protected and managed wild horses in that middle section. That remained the case until 2012 when the Forest Service claimed that adding the middle section had been an administrative error. It proposed and ultimately removed that middle section from the wild horse territory in Devil’s Garden. As a result, horses in this area would not be protected or managed by the Forest Service.

Why is the Devil’s Garden Territory So Important?

Federal protections under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act don’t provide horses the true sanctuary they deserve, but they are important. In removing the middle section from official Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, the Forest Service shrank the protected area by some 25,000 acres, thereby eliminating wild horse access to crucial foraging and water resources and simultaneously severing two now-disjointed portions of the territory and cutting off gene flow between those portions. Horses on that land would no longer enjoy modest protection from cruel roundups as methods of “managing” the horse population. In fact, a roundup was carried out in Devil’s Garden in 2016 after requests were made by private landowners. Farmers claim the wild horses use water and land they require. As we so often see, the needs of wildlife unjustly come in second to the demands of farmers who raise animals for food. More than 200 horses were removed during the 2016 roundup.

Wild Horses need more protections, not fewer. As the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is determined to defend America’s wild horses.

Taking the Government to Court

We filed suit lawsuit in 2014 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, representing the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Return to Freedom, and an individual wild horse advocate in California. We argued that the government did not engage in a proper decision-making process about the effect of changing the Devil’s Garden wild horse territory. The government protected horses there for decades and treated that as part of the territory, and needed a good reason to change the borders of the territory. The Forest Service could not just claim that it made an error thirty years ago when it included that land in the territory.

The District Court ruled in favor of the Forest Service, but the Animal Legal Defense Fund pushed forward and appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Aug. 4, 2017, the D.C. Circuit agreed with us, finding that the Forest Service engaged in improper decision-making because the agency did not adequately explain its change in policy, and failed to adequately consider the potential environmental impact of changing the boundaries.

In that opinion, D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett writes,

“The Service tries to shrug off its inclusion of the Middle Section in the Wild Horse Territory as some sort of inconsequential and passing ‘administrative error,’ as though that label nullifies any agency duty to reasonably explain its about-face. But there is no ‘oops’ exception to the duty of federal agencies to engage in reasoned decisionmaking. Accordingly, the Service’s decision runs aground on both the facts and the law.”

We Will Keep Fighting for the Horses of Devil’s Garden

The D.C. Circuit’s ruling establishes that the Forest Service’s plan to shrink the protected territory was unjustified, and provided no legally sufficient justification for sidestepping an environmental review. The decision requires the Forest Service to reconsider its decision to remove the middle section from the Devil’s Garden territory. No matter how the Forest Service decides to proceed, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue advocating for the horses to retain their protections.

Those who care about horses as much as we do should follow us for more information and updates on this case.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund would like to thank public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP and the past work of pro bono attorney David Zaft for their invaluable legal assistance on this case.

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We Are Thinking of Hurricane Harvey’s Victims

Posted by on August 28, 2017

With continuing news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas and other Gulf Coast communities, our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this disaster.

We hope that anyone evacuating or sheltering in place (where safe) can stay united with their human and nonhuman family. It is all too common for companion animals to be displaced in the chaos and danger of natural disasters of this magnitude.

We are all heartbroken watching the impact of the storm unfolding on news and social media, and hearing reports from our friends and family in the region. We want everyone affected to know that we are thinking of you.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund urges every family to consider animals in their disaster preparedness plans. The internet offers many very useful resources including information on caring for pets during an emergency and what to take with you if you have to evacuate.

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Tell the USDA to stop rubber-stamping Animal Welfare Act licenses

Posted by on August 24, 2017

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering changes to the way it grants Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses, and now you have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. The current licensing program makes it incredibly easy for facilities that are violating the AWA to remain licensed.

Currently, the USDA does not consider a licensee’s history of violations or noncompliance with the AWA when licenses are up for renewal. In fact, it will reissue the license even if presented with compelling evidence that the facility is violating the law.

When initially applying for a breeder, dealer, or exhibitor license, an individual must demonstrate compliance with the AWA. The USDA performs an inspection, then issues or withholds depending on whether the licensee complies with the AWA. Each year licensees must reapply to continue the license, and the USDA rubber-stamps approval. The USDA does not look for AWA compliance when it reissues the license.

Breeders requiring licenses include puppy mills, those who breed animals for use in laboratory experiments, and those breeding any other regulated animals.

Dealers requiring licenses include those selling animals to laboratories for testing, animal auctioneers, and those selling animal parts—like their blood or serum.

Exhibitors requiring licenses include roadside zoos, petting zoos, marine animal parks, and circuses that use animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund strongly opposes the rubber-stamp license policy and has challenged it in court. We will submit comments to the USDA urging changes to the policy that will better protect animals and uphold the AWA.

Will you join us to urge the USDA to uphold the law and protect animals?

The 60-day comment window is now open. Read over our guidelines below, then register your formal comment.

To comment, go here and look for the blue “COMMENT NOW!” button.

Tips for Commenting:

  • Keep your comments concise and to the point.
  • Share your passion! But remember to keep it clean and stay calm. Using vulgar language, “shouting” with all-caps text, or making personal attacks encourages reviewers to disregard your comment.
  • If you have a level of expertise in a relevant field (lawyer, scientist, etc.) be sure to mention that in your comments.
  • It’s best to write your own comments, which have more impact than a form letter or petition.

Sample comments to personalize:

I urge the USDA to stop rubber-stamping AWA license renewals. It is well-established that licensees frequently fall out of compliance with the law after their initial inspection. Granting a license renewal without performing a new inspection or reviewing a licensee’s violation history enables facilities to continue unlawful behavior, putting animals in danger and misleading the public.  

Rubber-stamping permit applications circumvents the purpose of the Animal Welfare Act.

Make your comments before the window closes on October 24, 2017.

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Florida: Urge Your Legislators to Sponsor the Florida Orca Protection Act

Posted by on August 23, 2017

Florida Residents: Take Action!

For an orca who can swim up to 140 miles a day and dive hundreds of feet deep, life in captivity is extreme confinement. If you’ve ever felt a sense of the great vastness of the ocean, it is truly chilling to consider the life of a wild orca versus that of one in captivity. An orca in a tank is often compared to a human living in a bathtub. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading a coalition of animal protection, environmental, and marine conservation groups to introduce the Florida Orca Protection Act, which would grandfather in existing orcas but outlaw holding any additional orcas in captivity in Florida. The act would also prohibit breeding captive orcas or transporting them into or out of state, unless to a seaside sanctuary or required by federal law. It’s a commonsense law that just codifies SeaWorld’s previous commitment to phase out breeding orcas immediately and orca performances by 2019.

Act now—Use this form to urge the members of the Florida Senate Preservation and Conservation Committee to sponsor the Florida Orca Protection Act.

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Oregon Becomes 11th State to Pass “Good Samaritan Law” to Protect Dogs Left in Hot Cars

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on August 23, 2017

On June 22, 2017, just before a weekend heat wave brought temperatures to over 100 degrees across Oregon, Governor Kate Brown signed into law House Bill 2732 to protect dogs and children left in hot cars. Oregon is the 11th state to pass such a “Good Samaritan law,” and the fourth to do so just this year.

Oregon’s new law, which became effective immediately, expands protections for vulnerable companion animals by providing that anyone – not just law enforcement – may enter a motor vehicle, “by force or otherwise,” to remove an unattended child or domestic animal without fear of criminal or civil liability, as long as certain requirements are met. To fulfill these requirements, a person must:

  1. have a reasonable belief that the animal or child is in imminent danger of suffering harm;
  2. notify law enforcement or emergency services either before or soon after entering the vehicle;
  3. use only the minimum force necessary to enter the vehicle; and
  4. stay with the animal or child until law enforcement, emergency services, or the owner or operator of the vehicle arrives.

During the past two years, there has been a steady increase in the number of states passing legislation to address the issue of companion animals left in hot cars, a growing subset of which shield regular citizens (as opposed to law enforcement) who rescue an animal in distress from criminal and civil liability. In 2017, similar “Good Samaritan laws” have passed in Arizona, Colorado, and Indiana. Of the additional seven states that empower civilians to take action to help an animal confined in a vehicle in dangerous weather conditions, six passed laws in 2016 (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Vermont), and one passed its law in 2015 (Tennessee).

H.B. 2732 passed with the help of a third-grade Girl Scout troop, whose members were instrumental in introducing and lobbying for the bill, according to a news release by the Oregon State Legislature Senate Majority Office:

“A small group of members from the Girl Scout Brownie Troop 10037 in the Salem area proposed the legislation. Troop members testified in the House and Senate committee hearings throughout the process. Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) – the father of one of the scouts – authored and introduced the bill.”

Why is this legislation necessary? Although public awareness has been on the rise about the dangers of leaving children or animals in hot cars as a result of media coverage and outreach campaigns by many groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, too many people remain unaware of the potential risk, as evidenced by the number of animals who still die in hot vehicles every year. For example, although it has been shown to have little effect on the interior temperature of a vehicle, many people believe leaving windows open on a warm day is sufficiently protective, or do not realize how quickly temperatures can soar to life-threatening levels inside a car even when the outside temperature is as low as 70 degrees. Even on demonstrably hot days, some people still do not realize the dangers of leaving an animal inside a vehicle. In fact, just one day after Oregon’s new law went into effect, a Good Samaritan made use of it to rescue a dog.

The outside temperature was 89 degrees in downtown Portland when Shawna Harch broke into a locked car, with its windows rolled up and moonroof cracked only an inch, to rescue the small dog confined inside in a crate. She had tried to locate the owners, called the police (who said they would dispatch someone but that it could be a while), and attempted to set off the car alarm to no avail. With the help of passersby, a half hour after noticing the barking dog – who had now stopped barking and appeared to be in distress – she was able to break the window and remove the dog. In an essay detailing the incident, Harch recounted what happened when the owners finally returned:

“The police checked the dog and then began taking down my information. In the midst of this, the owner of dog and the owner of the car finally appeared. They were two young men who looked to be about 17 or 18 years old. They appeared shocked and puzzled. The owner was perplexed, saying he thought that leaving the moonroof cracked was sufficient. I, along with the police officers, explained it was not. Surprisingly, the owner of the vehicle thanked me.”

Although Harch said she would have rescued the dog regardless, having laws in place to protect citizens from liability in cases like this is an important step toward empowering people to act when they see an animal or child in distress. Senator James Manning, who sponsored the legislation in the Oregon Senate, spoke eloquently on the need for such laws and commended the Girl Scouts for getting involved:

“We should be doing everything we can to protect our most vulnerable, and that includes animals and children…I don’t care if somebody has to rip the door off a car; if that’s the only way they can rescue a child or an animal from potentially deadly harm, they should not be liable for property damage in those situations. They should be applauded as heroes. I also think that the local Girl Scouts who participated in the passage of this bill should be commended. For such a young group to be so committed to protecting other kids and animals who are placed in harmful situations – that is truly commendable.”

As reported by the Associated Press, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey echoed that sentiment earlier this year, where he said: “All it takes is a good Samaritan to save a life…The last thing we’d want is any Arizonan worried about breaking into that car to save a life. Send me a bill protecting the good Samaritans who save the lives of children and pets — and I’ll sign it.” And he did, in May 2017.

Not everyone agrees. According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, spoke out against Arizona’s legislation as “unnecessary” and complained that “worse yet, it puts the rescue of pets on the same level as rescue of children.” However, these laws are consistent with the social consensus – codified in cruelty and neglect laws – that abuse of both children and animals are social harms. Giving protections to one group does not take away protections from another, especially when these laws remove the exclusive burden on law enforcement and empower civilians to act in cases of imminent harm without fear of being sued or prosecuted. Although states may have a separate law on the books addressing children, many Good Samaritan hot car laws mention children (or “at-risk people,” as in Colorado’s law) alongside animals, highlighting the fact that companion animals, like children, are vulnerable members of society who deserve protection and sometimes need intervention when neglectful or simply uninformed guardians leave them unattended in potentially dangerous situations.

Yet, in lauding the extension of protections afforded to children to animals, we must remain mindful that these protections only extend to some animals – namely those defined as “pets.” Of the four Good Samaritan hot vehicles laws passed in 2017, all contain exemptions for farmed animals, despite the fact that cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals suffer just as much in the heat as dogs and cats. The culturally constructed categories into which we place animals – such as “food” or “family” – do not take into account the physiological, cognitive, and emotional similarities that exist between these categories, but result in very different protections under the law. Most animal protection laws apply only to “domestic animals” and are written to expressly exclude “livestock.” Some laws use the broad term “animal” but then narrow it significantly; for example, Colorado’s law granting immunity to a person who renders assistance from a locked vehicle states: “’Animal’ means a dog or cat. The term ‘animal’ does not include livestock…”

Despite these shortcomings, and because protections for one group do not preclude protections for another, there is cause to celebrate these laws that protect companion animals, while at the same time working to expand meaningful legal protections for all animals.

Further Reading:

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A Big Win in Our Battle Against Wildlife Services’ Tax-Funded Killing

Posted by on August 21, 2017

On Aug. 9, 2017 Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal found in favor of a coalition of wildlife protection groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in its challenge to Monterey County, California’s contract renewal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. The judge’s decision is a win for wildlife in Monterey, and a warning to other counties that contract with the federal killing agency.

For years, Monterey County, like counties across the U.S., has used taxpayer money to contract with Wildlife Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that runs the notorious federal wildlife-killing program. Wildlife Services contracts with states, counties and municipalities to do the dirty work of “managing” (often killing) “unwanted” wildlife. Often, the factor that gets animals labeled as “unwanted” is any perceived threat to the bottom line of farmers and ranchers raising animals for food, who continue expanding grazing areas deeper and deeper into the natural habitats of native species like coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Wildlife Services has killed more than 3,000 coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals in Monterey County alone over the past six years. Nationwide, Wildlife Services killed more than 2.7 million animals in 2014 (the last year for which data is available). The agency employs indiscriminate methods of killing like poison and traps, which inflict painful deaths on native Californian wildlife and have injured humans and killed more than 1,100 dogs since 2000. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a history of challenging Wildlife Services’ cruel killing policies, and we are hopeful the win in Monterey County signals the beginning of the end for the agency’s reckless killing in the state.

No CEQA Exemption for California Counties

Our lawsuit, filed in June 2016, argued that Monterey County’s renewal of its contract with Wildlife Services violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA requires every California agency responsible for overseeing state-funded or state-implemented projects to comply with an environmental-review process prior to commencing any project that could possibly affect the environment. Our lawsuit noted that Monterey County (which is treated as a state agency under CEQA) failed to analyze the environmental impacts of its agreement with Wildlife Services and wrongfully claimed an exemption from CEQA. Also, the county held no public hearings about a CEQA exemption claim, and did not disclose details to the public of its agreement with Wildlife Services.

During the litigation, Monterey County attempted to use procedural loopholes to avoid CEQA responsibility, but the judge ultimately ruled that “the County abused its discretion by determining that CEQA review procedures did not apply.” The court further admonished the county for its baseless claim that the wildlife-killing program would not affect the environment. The court found no evidence to support the county’s contention that killing hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of animals would not result in significant environmental changes. To the contrary, the program most likely does impact the ecosystem and will continue to do so as long as it is in place. The court’s ruling acknowledges this is a possibility.

This ruling establishes that California counties may not lawfully implement wildlife-management programs without first conducting an adequate environmental review under CEQA. This decision is crucial for California wildlife, since it sends a strong message to all counties that currently implement wildlife-killing programs or might consider doing so in the future.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund will follow developments in Monterey as the county begins the CEQA review process. Meanwhile, as part of our efforts to protect wildlife, we will continue challenging other jurisdictions that contract with Wildlife Services to spend tax dollars on indiscriminant killing programs.

Lawsuit Challenges Monterey County’s Contract with Federal Wildlife-Killing Program

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Making Connections at the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference (and Beyond!)

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on August 14, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund had a busy weekend exhibiting and hosting an Animal Law Networking Reception at the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference, which took place in Alexandria, Virginia, August 3-6. At the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s booth, Student Programs Attorney Kelly Levenda and I had the opportunity to speak to conference attendees from around the world, including many attorneys and law students, about our mission, recent case and legislative updates, and educational opportunities in animal law.

Animal Rights Conference 2017 - ALDF Table

Animal protection conferences are a great way to connect with likeminded others, learn new advocacy tools, and share information about the many different ways that groups and individuals are working to help animals. The modern animal protection movement has been characterized as “many hands on many oars,”[1] and attending a large conference can give one a sense of the depth and breadth of tactics being used in a variety of contexts to protect animals on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of ways animals are exploited in our society, and while this creates a daunting challenge it also means there are countless points of entry to get involved to create positive change.

We shared the exhibit hall with intrepid photographers documenting the institutional animal abuse that is so often hidden from public view; sanctuaries that provide shelter to rescued animals and educational outreach to the public; local groups facilitating the switch to plant-based eating in their community; vendors selling cruelty-free food, apparel and accessories; and an array of animal protection organizations, from national nonprofits that work on a variety of fronts to smaller grassroots groups that focus on a single issue or type of animal. Conference-goers who stopped by our booth enjoyed hearing about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s unique focus on using the legal system to help animals and the ways we go about doing this, including our criminal justice, litigation, legislative, and educational work. Since the law follows social change, all of the great work being done by activists and other groups to create a more animal-friendly culture helps us do our work in the legal system.

Hosting a reception for all of our supporters

In addition to the privilege of getting to talk with so many supporters at our exhibit booth, we also hosted an Animal Law Networking Reception on Friday evening, during which law students, attorneys, paralegals, academics and others interested in animal law met and mingled over drinks and plant-based appetizers. During the reception, Kelly and I gave updates about some of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s cases, including our recent Ag-Gag victory; defense of activists’ free speech rights; challenge to USDA Wildlife Services’ cruel and indiscriminate killing practices; continuing efforts to free captive wild animals like Tony the tiger, Lolita the orca, and Lucky the elephant; drafting legislation to help orcas in Florida;, and our class action lawsuit against national pet store chain Petland, which sells animals from puppy mills – to name just a handful of things our attorneys are working on. Animal Legal Defense Fund Associate Communications Director Elizabeth Putsche was also on hand to answer questions and chat with reception attendees.

Connecting with likeminded others at conferences is a great way for advocates to recharge our batteries and remind ourselves we are not alone in the struggle to bring about a better, more compassionate, world for animals. The next big event on our horizon where advocates will convene is the annual Animal Law Conference, co-presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies, and the Lewis & Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter, which celebrates its 25th year the weekend of Oct. 13-15 in Portland, Oregon. We are also holding our first-ever Student Convention the Friday leading up the conference, which will bring together members of our student chapters from schools located across the country and beyond to network, exchange ideas, and receive career advice from experts in the field, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s venerable founder Joyce Tischler, affectionately known as “the Mother of Animal Law.” Registration for the Animal Law Conference is now open, so sign up today and reserve your spot! If you are a law student, you can sign up for the student convention here.

Animal Rights Conference 2017 - Reception

Visiting a sanctuary to meet the animals we work for

Animal advocacy can be difficult, heart-wrenching work. To bolster resilience, a trait that is especially important to mitigate activist burnout, it is beneficial to make connections – not only with other advocates, but also with the often unseen animals for whom we are fighting. In addition to conferences, animal sanctuaries play an important role in recharging our psychic and emotional batteries and provide a tangible measure of joy and hope as we continue this difficult but necessary work. After the conference, Kelly and I were able to make a stop at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary (PSAS), located about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., before catching our flight back to Portland. Despite an unexpected rain storm, we relished the opportunity to visit with some very happy rescued farmed animals. Since 1996, sanctuary founders Terry Cummings and Dave Hoerauf have saved countless pigs, cows, horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, and other farmed animals from horrific abuse – most of which occurred on small “family farms” – and given them the one in a gazillion chance to live a storybook life of safety and comfort on PSAS’s 400 bucolic acres, free from the brutality of the agriculture industry, in which animals are considered commodities and treated like unfeeling objects.

While an increasing number of talented and dedicated people are working to transform the food industry, it has always been critical for animals rescued from this industry to have a place to go. Sanctuaries play a vital role in the movement, and in fact there will be a panel on this topic at the upcoming Animal Law Conference. Besides the healing the animals themselves undergo when they are lucky enough to reach safe haven, sanctuaries can also play a secondary role in sustaining activists. As welcome as a cool drink of water on a scorching day, petting a friendly cow, rubbing the belly of a happily grunting pig, or holding a hen who has no reason to trust people – but somehow still does – is its own form of therapy for the kindhearted among us. All in all, it was a great weekend!

[1] See Finsen and Finsen’s (1994) The Animal Rights Movement in America: From Compassion to Respect.

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Attorneys’ Fees Awarded in Los Angeles Cow Save Lawsuit

Posted by on August 11, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is pleased that Superior Court of California Judge Barbara A. Meiers has ordered slaughterhouse Manning Beef to pay $94,500 in attorneys’ fees for its lawsuit against Los Angeles Cow Save, a group it falsely accused of trespassing earlier this year.

“The judge’s decision validates the time and effort legal experts spent defending Los Angeles Cow Save from baseless claims,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “It’s a victory for free speech, farmed animals and those who protect them.”

The award is the result of a successful motion to dismiss Manning Beef’s lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Law Offices of Matthew Strugar and attorney Ryan Gordon from Advancing Law for Animals filed the anti-SLAPP motion on behalf of Los Angeles Cow Save. Manning Beef accused Los Angeles Cow Save, which organizes vigils for animals killed at the slaughterhouse, of trespassing despite the vigils taking place on a public road. In awarding attorneys’ fees, the court further recognizes Manning Beef’s lawsuit as an attempt to silence its critics through intimidation.

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Is SeaWorld Secretly Fighting to Protect an Orca Breeding Program?

Posted by on July 28, 2017

For years the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been fighting for justice for orcas. From Lolita and  SeaWorld San Diego to our new campaign to end captive breeding and use of captive orcas for entertainment purposes, we’re committed to securing these animals the protections they deserve. As the only nonprofit with a focus on protecting animals through the legal system, we’re proud that our successes have such impact, but lawsuits and legislation don’t happen overnight, and sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. This week, a Politico article gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at the early stages of proposing a bill—specifically, our Florida Orca Protection Act.

Why would Florida House Representative Thad Altman release a letter calling for a hearing on the Florida Protection Orca Act, then suddenly backtrack, saying we “don’t have enough science” to support an orca breeding ban? Politico seems to have reason to think SeaWorld played a role in Rep. Altman’s change of heart.

Altman blames staff after request for workshop on SeaWorld captive breeding policy
In the letter, Altman seemed to sympathize with those with concerns.


The Florida Orca Protection Act is a commonsense way to codify SeaWorld’s corporate promise to end its captive breeding program. The company’s ownership could change hands at any time, especially given that a company in China recently bought a 21% share in SeaWorld. Whether or not orcas get the protections they deserve shouldn’t hinge on who owns the most shares in a company.

We don’t know exactly what path this bill will take on its way to becoming law, but we can assure you we will fight to push it forward, no matter what.

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Don’t Let Ringling Export Big Cats for Further Exploitation

Posted by on July 18, 2017

*UPDATE: The permit application was republished on June 21, 2017 with a 30-day comment period closing on July 21, 2017. If you took action before June 21, please re-submit your comments.*

On May 26, 2017, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service published notice that Feld Entertainment, the multi-billion dollar parent corporation of the recently shuttered Ringling Bros. Circus, is applying for an Endangered Species Act permit to export eight tigers back to a circus in Germany. Feld’s application also indicates it intends to export six lions and a leopard as well.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund strongly opposes Ringling’s effort to condemn these animals to continued exploitation for “entertainment” when there are humane options for the endangered animals. These big cats should be allowed to live out their lives at a reputable sanctuary where they can experience the space, habitats, and peace they need and deserve. We will file administrative comments to oppose the export permit.

You have the right to comment on the permit application. The 30-day comment window is now open. Read over our guidelines below, then register your formal comment.

Tips for Commenting on Ringling Big Cat Export Permit:

  • Keep your comments concise and to the point.
  • Share your passion! But remember to keep it clean and stay calm. Using vulgar language, “shouting” with all-caps text, or making personal attacks encourages reviewers to disregard your comment.
  • If you have a level of expertise in a relevant field (lawyer, scientist, etc.) be sure to mention that in your comments.
  • It’s best to write your own comments, which have more impact than a form letter or petition.

Sample comments to personalize:

[Talk about your reaction to hearing the news that Ringling Circus was closing, and how you felt when you heard that instead of being able to “retire” to a reputable sanctuary, these big cats would be sent to Germany to endure more exploitation]

I oppose granting Ringling a Big Cat Export permit. A permit like this requires a demonstration that the activity for which the permit is being sought “enhance[s] the propagation or survival of the species.” The applicant has not demonstrated this in any capacity. In fact, granting this permit directly threatens the wellbeing of the animals involved and does not help endangered species as a whole.

[Talk about how it makes you feel to witness the reality of life for circus animals. Explain what you think should happen to the big cats.]

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should not employ a pay-to-play approach and continue rubber-stamping permits simply because the applicant makes a nominal donation to a conservation program. Not only do animal acts fail to educate the public and fail to enhance the propagation or survival of species, studies have shown that public display and commercial use of endangered species do operate to the detriment of wild populations of such species. Granting this permit circumvents the purpose of the Endangered Species Act.

[Summarize why you oppose granting this permit.]

Thank you.

Submit your comments before the window closes on July 21, 2017.


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Wildlife Services is a Taxpayer-Funded Killing Machine – We’ll See Them in Court

Posted by on July 12, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services for failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in accounting for the harm the agency causes to native Californian wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute, and WildEarth Guardians, asks the court to order that Wildlife Services update its environmental analysis to comply with NEPA.

Wildlife Services Ran Afoul of Federal Law After Failing to Update Its NEPA Analysis

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a history of challenging Wildlife Services’ cruel killing policies. This latest lawsuit against Wildlife Services alleges that its “Wildlife Damage Management” program in northern California violates NEPA because the program is operating under an outdated environmental analysis. NEPA is a federal law that requires federal agencies to prepare an intensive environmental analysis, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), before taking major actions that significantly affect the quality and integrity of the environment. An agency has a continuing obligation to comply with NEPA and must update its analysis whenever “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts” emerge.  Animals, including wildlife, are considered a part of the environment.

Roughly 20 years have passed since Wildlife Services analyzed the impacts of its “Wildlife Damage Management” program in the North District of California, despite advances in the science of wildlife management and changing ecological circumstances. Among these advances are new scientific research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of killing native species as a form of “predator control” and that nonlethal approaches to wildlife management are better for the environment and can be more effective at mitigating conflicts. In light of these significant changes, Wildlife Services is legally required to update its NEPA analysis. Yet it has failed to do so.

A Decades-Long War on Wildlife

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program is responsible for the deaths of millions of animals annually. It contracts with other government agencies and private landowners to fulfill its stated mission of “managing problems caused by wildlife.” “Problems” can include wildlife simply existing in areas where people don’t want them, though the majority of the agency’s killing is done to protect the private profits of ranchers who view wildlife living in its native habitat as competition with their domesticated herds. “Managing” nearly always means killing, by poisoning, aerial gunning, leghold traps and strangulation snares—all of which cause excruciating suffering—to target wolves, coyotes, cougars, and other animals.

These methods are also indiscriminate, meaning that they pose a risk to any animals that may encounter them, including animals that are legally protected, like bald eagles and the Pacific fisher. Hundreds of cats and dogs have also been killed. Even people are not safe! In one recent example, a dog named Casey was killed by a “cyanide bomb” planted by Wildlife Services agents to poison coyotes, right in front of his best friend, a 14-year-old boy named Canyon, who was also injured in the encounter.

In other cases, the impact on protected wildlife is less direct, but the consequences are just as devastating. For example, the endangered black-footed ferret relies on prairie dogs as its primary food source, but Wildlife Services kills countless prairie dogs year-round, making the ferrets’ survival more difficult.

Wildlife Services Benefits Agricultural and Ranching Interests, Not Wildlife

This cruel war on wildlife is a taxpayer-funded gift to the agricultural and ranching industry. Ranchers want wildlife killed to protect their farmed animals so that they can profit from selling the animals to slaughter.  Further, removing native species leaves a void in the ecosystem that has a devastating ripple effect on the remaining flora and fauna. The impact of indiscriminate killing endangers the health of the larger ecosystem and all the animals within it.

It’s time for Wildlife Services to either retire its program entirely or otherwise rely on science-based methods that take the well-being of animals and the environment into account. Until then, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and its allies will continue to hold the agency accountable in the courtroom.


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Legally Brief: California Air Resources Board Commits to Regulate Methane Emissions by Dairy Industry

Posted by Stephen Wells, Executive Director on June 29, 2017

In a momentous and long overdue shift in policy, partly in response to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s advocacy, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) has formally committed to regulating the dairy industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. California’s human and wildlife residents will breathe a little easier now that the ARB will adopt regulations on dairy manure management with implementation scheduled for roughly 2024. The purpose of these regulations is to reduce methane emissions that primarily come from animal agriculture in California. This is believed to be the first time that a governmental body (state or otherwise) will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture, positioning California to become a leader in combatting climate change.

ARB is the department within California’s Environmental Protection Agency charged with improving air quality for Californians. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and the California legislature recently extended the law to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. ARB is a key player in achieving these goals. In the fall of 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a petition for rulemaking urging ARB to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from factory farming under the state cap-and-trade program. It was a modest request considering factory farming’s impact on climate change and that ARB already regulates greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation and energy sectors.

Two and a half years later, ARB granted part of the petition due to its commitment to reducing methane emissions from the dairy industry, one component of its Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy. In its 2014 report, “Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in California,” ARB recognized that the livestock industry is responsible for 59% of all methane emissions in the state. Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant compared to carbon dioxide, meaning it does not persist in the atmosphere as long, but it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere making it a particular concern.

Climate change is acknowledged as one of the most significant threats to the welfare of human beings, with the threats of increasingly unpredictable and violent storms, droughts, floods and fires already well-documented. As governments across the world – with the notable, and tragic exception of the United States – collaborate to confront this threat to our human world, wildlife is already suffering. Climatic changes are already occurring far too rapidly for wildlife to adapt. Studies have shown that extinctions linked to climate change are already occurring and will likely increase rapidly, making it an issue that animal advocates must confront.

State-level changes have national impact

The benefits of the regulation aren’t confined to California. California’s dairy industry is massive; the states nearly 1.75 million cows produce 40.5 million pounds of milk annually making it the largest in the nation. Collectively these cows produce roughly 9 billion gallons of urine and feces, much of which is collected in waste lagoons. As this sewage begins to break down methane is created and released into the atmosphere. Regardless of what other states do, reducing methane emissions in California will reduce the total methane emissions for the dairy industry nationwide. California’s willingness to regulate dairy also signals to other states with smaller dairy industries that such regulations are politically feasible.

ARB intends to make the required cuts primarily by using “manure digesters” which convert methane into energy. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups such as the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment recommended pasture-based options, which are far more humane for the cows, and the ARB did acknowledge that switching to pasture-based systems could be an effective strategy. Under pasture-based dairy, cows graze on open fields instead of being confined to factory farms. Manure in a pasture-based system emits significantly less methane than the same amount in a manure lagoon. Dairy owners may also be motivated to find new ways to reduce methane, inventing processes and machines that don’t exist today.

Ultimately, the best way to protect animals and the environment is to reduce our consumption of dairy and other animal products, as inherent inefficiencies in producing animal products compared to plant foods results in vastly increased resources consumption and production of wastes, including raw, untreated sewage, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and greenhouse gas emissions. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will monitor the unfolding regulatory process to make sure any new processes provide increased protections for the cows involved as well.

Animal agriculture is a top contributor to climate change

The second part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s petition urged that livestock emissions be included in the cap-and-trade program and mandatory reporting requirements.  This part of the petition was denied. But any regulation of methane emissions by the dairy sector is a victory that can’t be overstated. For too long, legislators and regulators have ignored the tremendous negative impact that factory farming has, not just on the animals, but our environment as well, and particularly on climate change.

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Factory farming’s impact on climate change has been documented in multiple studies. A 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that animal agriculture accounts for about 15% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and a 2011 follow-up study by the Worldwatch Institute concluded that the figure is closer to 51%. And, alarmingly, the impact of animal agriculture is steadily increasing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that greenhouse gas emissions produced by animal agriculture have increased 11% over the last 25 years. They are expected to continue to increase even while we work to curtail emissions from energy and transportation.

Considering the amount of greenhouse gases that factory farming creates, it’s shocking that in 2017, the industry remains largely unregulated.  Well-funded lobby groups for the animal agriculture industry, notorious for preventing regulation of animal welfare on factory farmers, have also successfully blocked regulation of the industry’s many environmental impacts in California and elsewhere, until now. To effectively fight climate change, it’s essential we use every tool at our disposal. It’s been said that where California goes, so goes the nation. In this case, we hope it’s true.

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Sonoma County, CA: Tell the DA to Take Animal Cruelty Seriously

Posted by on June 28, 2017

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is urging residents of Sonoma County, California to speak up and demand that the Sonoma County District Attorney file animal cruelty charges in the case of a terrible incident that took place in April causing the death of two miniature horses, Scout and Big Red.

Ronald Rennert allegedly drove his SUV through three sturdy wooden fences separating a corral from the roadway. The car then struck the horses, mangling them both so badly they had to be euthanized by an emergency veterinarian. According to media reports,  Rennert fled the scene and police arrested him on suspicion of DUI. He currently faces two DUI charges and one hit and run charge for damaging property. Neither of those charges account for the horror and severity of allegedly causing the suffering and death of two animals.

Act now—urge the District Attorney to file animal cruelty charges.

Sonoma County residents can also take  a step farther and attend the next hearing in this case on Wednesday, July 5 (time and room number to be determined) at Sonoma County Superior Court. Call the courthouse for details: (707) 521-6500.

The DA needs to hear that citizens care about this issue.

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Rhode Island: Say NO to Cruel Confinement of Egg-laying Hens

Posted by on June 27, 2017

Residents of Rhode Island, we need you to speak up in support of an important measure to prohibit the cruel confinement in battery cages of the more than 40,000 egg-laying hens in the state.  Earlier this month, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed H.B. 6023, a bill that would prohibit egg-laying hens from being restrained in battery cages so small that these hens cannot even spread their wings.

We need your help in ensuring that this bill passes through Rhode Island Senate and that this inhumane practice is eliminated from the state once and for all. 

Please make a 30-second phone call to your state senator to urge support for H.B. 6023 and simply say:

“As a concerned constituent, I urge you to support H.B. 6023 to prevent cruelty to farm animals and to do everything you can to make sure it gets a vote.”

You can find contact information for your state senator here.

Thank you for taking action to protect animals.

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New Mega Dairy is an Environmental Catastrophe for Oregon Residents

Posted by on June 27, 2017

The environmental devastation created by mega dairy facilities (“factory farms”) is immense. These operations, where thousands of cows are confined in cramped and often-filthy conditions, store excessive manure in giant lagoons, which create a chemical reaction that ultimately releases methane into the earth’s atmosphere. These methane emissions are a leading contributor to climate change. Dairy factory farms are also a major source of water pollution, endangering wildlife and public health.

At the end of May, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in conjunction with other local and national groups, challenged the state of Oregon’s approval of a water-pollution permit for Lost Valley Farm, a mega dairy. The coalition argues that the permit does not meet requirements under state law or under the Clean Water Act, a federal law that regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters. Specifically, the Clean Water Act requires “point sources” of pollution such as large factory farms to obtain a permit before discharging animal waste or wastewater.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Columbia Riverkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, Humane Oregon, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Rural Action, filed a petition for reconsideration with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The petition argues that the permit is invalid because the mega dairy has inadequate protections against the discharge of fecal matter, drugs, and heavy metals, all of which will threaten public health, groundwater, and wildlife.

A Day on a Dairy Farm

Understanding how mega dairies function is crucial to understanding their environmental impact. Generally, cows are housed indoors in huge concrete and metal barns with poor ventilation. Cows stand on hard concrete, which leads to foot damage and exacerbates lameness. They live their entire lives indoors, only moving between stalls and milking parlors until they are killed for beef. Many factory farms keep cows tethered by the neck inside stalls to further restrict movement.

A typical dairy cow produces 100 pounds of milk daily, roughly ten times more than a cow would produce naturally. This high milk production is the result of human manipulation. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk as a result of pregnancy.  Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated, and kept pregnant almost continuously, to maintain milk production. All of the milk produced is intended for sale, so calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth. Male calves are marked to be slaughtered as veal, and female calves are incorporated into the dairy stock to replace “older” cows. Dairy cows’ bodies begin shutting down at just three or four years of age as a result of the significant physical and emotional toll of constant pregnancy, lactation, and abuse.

A dairy housing 2,000 cows produces roughly 240,000 pounds of manure daily, and the largest mega dairies house tens of thousands of cows. Lost Valley Farm will eventually house 30,000 cows, producing 3,600,000 pounds of manure in a single day. All this manure must be managed to avoid contaminating groundwater and polluting the environment. Manure management includes spreading it onto fields and holding it in manure “lagoons” (massive pools that hold millions of gallons of manure). Spills and runoff into nearby waterways are a frequent problem.

Polluted Water Hurts the Community, Wildlife, and the Environment

The location of Lost Valley Farm is particularly concerning. The mega dairy is in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, which already suffers from groundwater depletion and high groundwater nitrate concentrations. The operation of Lost Valley Farm, which experts believe will create roughly 23 million cubic feet of waste and wastewater each year, will further compromise the area and endanger Oregon residents who use the groundwater for drinking water.

Groundwater contamination occurs when potentially harmful substances enter groundwater, rendering it unsafe for humans and non-human animals. Despite the deadly risks that contaminated groundwater presents, the permit issued by the state sets up inadequate groundwater monitoring. The parameters of the permit for Lost Valley Farm only mandate sporadic testing and exclude common pollutants like pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

Local wildlife is also negatively impacted by the degraded water. All area wildlife, from deer to trout, eventually encounter the pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones flooding into local waterways, because these animals either consume or live in the affected water. Dairy factory farms across the country are responsible for aquatic “dead zones,” which refer to hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in bodies of water that can no longer support aquatic life.

The two Oregon agencies have 60 days to respond to the petition. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the coalition intend to pursue legal remedies in court if the agencies fail to respond or deny the request. The protection of local wildlife and the safety of residents and farmed animals rest in the balance. The state can either sanction the endangerment of its citizens by animal agriculture operations or enforce its own laws and protect the environment, human health, and animals.

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