What Government Cuts Would Mean for Animals

PetMD Editorial
Published: June 28, 2017
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If the Trump administration’s proposed budget passes Congress, substantial cuts to environmental programs could have wide-ranging impacts on animals and wild habitats. Efforts to combat wildlife trafficking would be at risk, as would the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other safeguards in place for animals and wildlands.

The proposed budget would completely cut the $73 million Sea Grant Program, which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Sea Grant works with universities in 33 states and provides education to graduate students in fishing and ocean-related research as well as technical assistance for aquaculture and other ocean-based industries,” said Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. oceans and wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, headquartered in New York.

In addition, the president’s proposed 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could slow work being done to reduce and eliminate new animal testing under Toxic Substances Control Act reform, said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs at the Humane Society Legislative Fund in Washington, D.C.

For now, these programs are safe, due to a bipartisan Congressional agreement to fund the government until the end of FY17 (Sept. 30), said Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Wayne Pacelle in his blog, A Humane Nation. The agreement also resulted in key wins for animals, which include defunding horse slaughter inspection, and an increase of more than $9 million to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to fight wildlife trafficking.

The following is an overview of the areas in which animals stand to lose in FY18 if the president’s proposed budget passes intact.

Protections for Endangered Species

The Fish and Wildlife Service (housed under the U.S. Department of the Interior) carries out a number of important animal protection tasks: it administers the Endangered Species Act, works to combat wildlife trafficking, and oversees wildlife refuges. The president’s proposed budget recommends a 12 percent budget cut. Put into perspective, federal spending on environment and natural resources programs account for just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

The ESA, which Congress passed in 1973 to protect and recover imperiled species, is the nation’s keystone environmental law, said Peter LaFontaine, campaigns manager at International Fund for Animal Welfare, based in D.C. “ESA success stories include iconic species like the bald eagle, California condor, and humpback whale. Cutting funding for these agencies would severely limit their ability to designate critical habitat, ensure that developers and industries follow the law, and oversee species recovery programs.”

Cuts would also limit the ability of the FWS to list endangered and threatened species, said Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, vice president of endangered species conservation and director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at D.C.-based advocacy group, Defenders of Wildlife.

“For example, FWS has plans over seven years to list 350 species. A 12 percent cut means the agency can’t move at the pace needed to evaluate these species.” As a result, he said it’s likely more species would never be recovered, or that recovery efforts would happen within a slower timeframe. “It usually takes two decades for a species to recover under a normal budget. Under the new budget, it may take three decades.”

Federal agencies tasked with wildlife protection have never had enough money to prevent the extinction of species, Li said. “FWS receives less than a quarter of the money it needs to carry out all the measures that it has identified in recovery plans for imperiled species.” Additional cuts would make it more difficult for the federal government to protect endangered species. 

Wildlife Trafficking

Congress made progress in 2016 when it passed the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act, Letterman said. “The legislation was created to support global anti-poaching efforts, require greater collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking, and allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger substantial penalties under money-laundering statutes.”

Decreased funding to the FWS could mean the government would have fewer resources available to carry out the legislation’s intent. Wildlife trafficking, according to LaFontaine, is causing a rapid decline in many of the planet’s most endangered species.

“The staff in these offices (at FWS) includes some of the world’s foremost conservation specialists who shape policies at the international level,” he said. “Any staff reductions would be a terrible loss of expertise.”

Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Refuge System (also managed by FWS) consists of protected public lands that provide habitat for wildlife.  Maintenance requires money for things like restoration projects and prescribed burns, Li said. “With budget cuts, a lot of these things won’t happen.”

A reduction in funding might also impact implementation and enforcement of important wildlife protection laws, such as ensuring illegal hunting at national wildlife refuges or national parks and preserves is prohibited, Letterman said.

Programs to conserve wildlife overseas, especially in Africa and southeast Asia, could also suffer if cuts are made to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has historically assisted with funding, materials, and technical expertise for habitat conservation programs, LaFontaine said. “Cuts to USAID’s biodiversity programs would severely impact on-the-ground work that has helped protect African elephants, rhinoceros, and other large mammals. We also see threats to international aid programs that focus on alleviating poverty and other human-centric issues, which often pay major dividends for wildlife, as well as by giving communities sustainable means to earn a living.”

Enforcement of Animal Protection Laws

The president’s budget proposes a 21 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which houses Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA). Funding for enforcement of AWA and HPA would remain the same under Trump’s proposal, according to a blog post by Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Strong oversight and enforcement by APHIS is essential to ensuring animals are treated humanely, Letterman added. Without this enforcement, “Violators would not be deterred from skirting the law, putting thousands of animals at risk of harm.” Self-policing within the horse industry, for example, has proven to be ineffective in eliminating soring, she said. (Soring is a practice used to heighten a horse’s gait. Experts say it causes them pain.) APHIS also oversees registration and licensure of puppy mills, and reviews treatment of animals at research facilities and roadside zoos.

Congress appropriates the necessary funds to the USDA, Letterman said, so “it’s encouraging that a bipartisan letter from over 170 members of Congress requested that appropriators maintain level funding for AWA and HPA enforcement.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the group that enforces the Humane Slaughter Act, would also continue to receive full funding under the president’s budget, she said.  

Letterman said the budget for 2017 runs through Sept. 30, and at that point, “Congress will need to either pass a budget for 2018 or a Continuing Resolution that extends the current budget until a set date.”

Congress largely controls whether the budget will pass, making it imperative for animal advocates to contact their federal representatives when the bill is ready for passage.