By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

A number of important bills are now making their way through Congress, and this week has been a particularly successful one for wildlife and especially for elephants, rhinos, wolves, wild horses, burros and right whales.

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved two fiscal year 2020 funding bills for federal agencies that oversee activities and programs with enormous consequences for animals, including the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce. And earlier this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked up the Rescuing Animals with Rewards Act, an important bill in our fight to end wildlife trafficking of at-risk animals like elephants and rhinos.

Key proposals in the Senate appropriations package include:

  • Groundbreaking new protections for wild horses and burros, including $35 million for the Department of the Interior for expanded use of proven safe and humane fertility control tools, and preventing lethal management methods like slaughter. Consistent with a plan proposed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States and several other organizations, this strategy expressly prohibits slaughter or mass killing. Instead, it commits the government to advance fertility control initiatives, fund adoption efforts, and provide larger, more humane pasture facilities for horses and burros currently in holding facilities and those taken off the range. As a result, there will be no perpetual warehousing of horses and burros, no slaughter, and no more stalemate on the path towards long-term humane resolution of their plight.
  • Increased funding to save North Atlantic right whales and reduce fatalities from entanglements in fishing nets for this critically endangered species. There are currently no more than 400 individual right whales surviving along the U.S. and Canadian coast, and it is important that we act to save them now. The appropriations bill provides $3 million for research and conservation efforts, including $1 million for a pilot program to develop, refine and field test fishing gear technologies that would reduce entanglements.
  • More funding to protect animals listed under the Endangered Species Act, like wolves, great apes and elephants. For years, Congress has cut funding for critical wildlife programs like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ecological Services program, which helps to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $5 million more than the program received for FY 2019, and $17 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also adds $1 million in FY 2019 for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes.
  • Continuation of funding for developing animal testing alternatives through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology Program. With the EPA’s recent announcement that it plans to end all testing on dogs, mice, rabbits and other mammals for chemicals and pesticides by 2035, it is crucial that we ensure increased funding in the near term.

The House has already passed a similar funding package in July, and we are eagerly looking forward to the Senate and House reaching agreement on final legislation, including these provisions.

The Rescuing Animals with Rewards Act, S. 1590, which passed the House in July and was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, is a key tool in our efforts to end wildlife trafficking. We are fighting this scourge here in the United States and globally, with all of the legislative and legal means at our disposal. Wildlife trafficking is one of the most lucrative illicit trades in the world, bringing in more than $10 billion a year. If RAWR becomes law, it would authorize the State Department to offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, conviction or identification of wildlife traffickers and poachers who are often involved with large crime networks and, in some cases, terrorist organizations.

A critical wildlife bill also got a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee this week. The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (the Paw and Fin Conservation Act), H.R. 4348, would stop the current administration from making damaging and irresponsible changes to how the Endangered Species Act is implemented.

We’re committed to the passage of each and every one of these bills, and we hope to gain your continued energy and support for them in the weeks and months ahead. There have always been challenges in our path, perhaps more than a fair share in these last few years, but we have also built great momentum around our federal legislative goals. We have powerful allies in Congress and we’re confident that we can bring many of these measures across the finish line.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.