Big Cats and Zoo Politics

Update: H.R. 1818— Big Cat Public Safety Act

Dan Ashe and Wayne PacelleDan Ashe, CEO AZA, with Wayne Pacelle, CEO HSUS— photo via twitter

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is alive and well, notwithstanding assurances to the contrary made by Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), to member zoos concerned about the survival of their Animal Ambassador programs.

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the primary proponent of the measure, characterized the bill as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — ostensibly a bill to ban big cats as pets. However, most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. South Carolina passed a law banning big cats as pets in the 2017 legislative session. The primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with the HSUS.

Zoo Controversy
Recently, a dark tide of suspicion and uncertainty washed over the zoo community, when news of an alliance between an anti-zoo-animal-rights behemoth, HSUS, and the largest zoological trade association in the country, AZA, was announced. The new partnership was unveiled when Dan Ashe announced that his old friend Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS, would be the keynote speaker at the AZA Annual Conference 2017.  Facebook blazed with opposition posts, and an online petition to disinvite Pacelle from the conference garnered more than 700 signatures.

Simultaneously, AZA declined Protect the Harvest’s platinum sponsorship and revoked its booth at their conference. Protect the Harvest, a farm organization founded by Forrest Lucas, has been a vocal critic of the HSUS, and their removal from the conference was a clear nod to the HSUS by Dan Ashe. Clearly, Wayne Pacelle wanted no counter balance to his aggressive animal rights vision for AZA.

Association Politics and Propaganda
In the lead up to the AZA conference, AZA members criticized Dan Ashe for inviting Pacelle as the keynote speaker. For many, it was akin to letting the fox into the hen house. Pacelle has never supported zoos in the past, and has never supported captive breeding programs for conservation. He has a reputation for believing he has the moral authority— giving himself latitude — to play fast and loose with the truth. His ability to engineer slick media campaigns designed to smear his enemies and promote his friends has become his signature.

The HSUS propaganda machine can be a serious problem for anyone not willing to align with Pacelle’s animal rights philosophy. Farmers, egg producers, ranchers and dog fanciers can all attest to the damage done when Pacelle opens up his bag of dirty tricks. Understandably, many in the zoo community are afraid that HSUS will lead the AZA into dangerous and uncertain territory.

“Dan was the best US Fish and Wildlife Service Director the nation has ever had.”— Wayne Pacelle, AZA Annual Conference 2017

Some AZA members say they were assured by Dan Ashe that H.R. 1818 was dead. Many had expressed fears the bill would eliminate their Animal Ambassador programs. However, keep in mind, Dan Ashe has always been known for a very transactional management style. As director of FWS, he never met someone that he didn’t agree with. At the meeting table Ashe focuses on appeasement. Regardless of eventual outcomes, face to face, he is always on your side.

ZAA Smear
During his opening statements at the AZA Annual Conference, Pacelle revealed the long term relationship between he and Dan Ashe dating back to before their close association during Ashe’s days as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Pacelle joked about playing basketball with Ashe in the mid-80’s. Then in an attempt to demonstrate ideological parity between the HSUS and the AZA, and to assuage member concerns about the historically anti-zoo HSUS mission, Pacelle elevated the AZA accreditation above all other zoological trade associations, calling it the “gold standard.” He then directed his ire toward the second largest zoo accreditation organization, the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), saying, “[ZAA] doesn’t have standards”— and equating it to the “pet ownership” he wants to eliminate with H.R. 1818. Pacelle’s efforts to discredit the ZAA and convince AZA conference attendees that ZAA’s zoo accreditation equates to pet ownership provided for the darkest moments of his address.

Big Cat Public Safety Act is Alive and Well
Ironically, in his closing remarks, Pacelle contradicted Ashe when he thanked the AZA for their “collaboration” on H.R. 1818, after Dan Ashe was reported to have just told some members that AZA was not supporting the bill. Not only did Pacelle implore members to support H.R. 1818, he urged them to take an active role discrediting the ZAA brand, calling ZAA members, “bad actors” and “unethical businesses.”

“Let’s get this bill done… let’s get congress to act on these issues.”— Wayne Pacelle, AZA Annual Conference 2017

H.R. 1818 may not be front burner on Capitol Hill right now, but HSUS and AZA are pushing for it. AZA members who are under the impression Dan Ashe doesn’t support this measure should seek clarification on exactly where AZA stands. All it would take is for one legislator to be convinced they could score some safe political points by pushing what HSUS has characterized as a “common sense public safety” issue to move H.R. 1818. I imagine at that point, Dan Ashe if true to form, would admonish that it is all beyond his control. Remember, election season is right around the corner, and talk is cheap in Washington, D.C. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.


Andrew Wyatt, working through the firm of Vitello Consulting, is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt


©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Vitello Consulting for the Win

Politics

In an arena known to be dominated by powerful special interest groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Vitello Consulting (VC) has created a niche providing powerful advocacy strategies that are leveling the playing field for it’s wildlife clients on Capitol Hill.  Additionally, in 2014 VC began to offer state level advocacy that has negated most of the legislative and regulatory initiatives pushed by HSUS and PeTA in state capitols across the country.

Bloomberg Government ranked Vitello Consulting in the ‘Top 5’ Washington, D.C. government affairs firms that specialize in wildlife issues. —2016

Our philosophy at Vitello Consulting is very simple, every client deserves our full attention and commitment.  We provide the ability to quickly analyze, interpret and track new bills.  Our expertise engaging regulatory agencies, and providing “substantive” public comment has been invaluable to clients. Not only do we have the political and agency contacts to achieve positive outcomes, but we have a vast network to draw from should it be necessary to exercise some grass roots muscle.  Our state level success is unmatched anywhere.  There is no other firm in the country that can manage a multi-pronged government affairs strategy on a budget tailored to your needs.

HSUS vents frustration with Vitello client advocacy [VIDEO]

Video credit: Center for Zoo Animal Welfare

The video clip above was taken from a recent zoo animal welfare meeting where the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) invited officers from HSUS and other animal rights advocates to convince AZA membership that they should welcome a partnership between animal rights advocates and AZA zoos.  In the video, Nicole Paquette, VP for Wildlife Protection at HSUS, articulates her frustration with the effectiveness of VC client advocacy.

Ms. Paquette tells the story of how in Illinois, HSUS was forced to kill their own bill because of our advocacy efforts.  What she didn’t mention is that after she hired a high priced contract lobbyist, we engaged the committee the bill was before, and revealed that HSUS and their lobbyist had misinformed the committee regarding the bill and it’s impacts.  When confronted with the facts, committee members from both sides of the political aisle realized they had been misled. Subsequently the committee verbally reprimanded HSUS representatives at the committee hearing, and killed the bill right there.

Vitello Consulting has made it’s bones helping small interests navigate the halls of Washington D.C. and state capitols around the United States.  It is awesome when our opponents acknowledge our success. Keep in mind, we can help you with a plan that makes financial sense for your budget.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt


©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Big Cat Public Safety Act: USFWS v. USDA

Legislative Update on the Status of H.R. 1818: Big Cat Public Safety Act

The Last Word on Wildlife

08270149-aa9f-4e80-bf2d-e81486d697e3-2060x1236UPDATED June 29, 2017

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Proponents of H.R. 1818 laud it as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — in other words, pets. However, this characterization appears not only disingenuous, but it is duplicative, as most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. If passed as written, the primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with animal rights advocates espousing historical anti-captive wildlife sentiments.

Usurping the Animal Welfare Act
In a joint press release animal rights groups claimed H.R. 1818 would strengthen the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA). The CWSA is the 2003 Lacey Act amendment mandating interstate transport of big cats be limited…

View original post 948 more words

Big Cat Public Safety Act: USFWS v. USDA

tiger-1.jpg

UPDATED June 29, 2017

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Proponents of H.R. 1818 laud it as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — in other words, pets. However, this characterization appears not only disingenuous, but it is duplicative, as most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. If passed as written, the primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with animal rights advocates espousing historical anti-captive wildlife sentiments.

Usurping the Animal Welfare Act
In a joint press release animal rights groups claimed H.R. 1818 would strengthen the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA). The CWSA is the 2003 Lacey Act amendment mandating interstate transport of big cats be limited to facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their registered agents. This amendment was consistent with the primary directive of the Lacey Act— to combat “trafficking” in “illegal” wildlife. The Lacey Act was never intended to regulate animal welfare. That is the dominion of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). However, H.R. 1818 seeks to expand the authority of the Lacey Act empowering U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to regulate “animal welfare” and “legal” wildlife; points of law already established under the AWA, and administered by USDA through the licensing and inspection of qualified facilities.

Dan Ashe, former Director of FWS under the Obama Administration and current CEO of the AZA, has long maintained working relationships with animal rights proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, particularly Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

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Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums— © Greg Nash

Three previous iterations of H.R. 1818 have been shopped around Capitol Hill since at least 2012. While touting public safety concerns, all have failed to get even a hearing because they are transparent attempts to establish the inequitable ideology of animal rights into the law. Previous versions of the Big Cat Public Safety Act offered an exemption to zoological facilities accredited only by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a trade association favored by bill proponents for instituting animal rights policies into their accreditation. These same proponents, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have been engaged in an ongoing smear campaign against any zoo or aquarium not accredited by the AZA.

H.R. 1818 would continue to favor AZA, although no longer exempting them by name. The exemption is accomplished through a bit of “slight of hand,” calling for a USDA exemption, but then qualifying the exemption with a laundry list of AZA/HSUS negotiated policies inserted into the bill language. These qualifications effectively usurp authority from the AWA, placing it under the authority of the Lacey Act.

By writing animal rights policy into the Lacey Act, H.R. 1818 seeks to rewrite a broad swath of USDA animal welfare regulations by doing an end run around the AWA. These animal rights groups hope to supersede USDA regulations they were unsuccessful in changing through the administrative process by pushing legislation at the House Natural Resources Committee with lawmakers unfamiliar with animal welfare issues. If H.R. 1818 were to pass as written, FWS, without any experience regulating captive wildlife, would administer and enforce the new regulations.

H.R. 1818- Big Cat Public Safety Act:
Section 3 Prohibitions, (e) Captive Wildlife Offense, (2) Limitation on Application,  paragraph (1)(A), subparagraphs i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii and viii, presumes to rewrite and supersede an area of established law pertaining to the “animal welfare” of “legal” wildlife already regulated by USDA under authority of the Animal Welfare Act, while maintaining a de facto exemption for AZA zoos.

Public Safety or Animal Rights?
Proponents of H.R. 1818 cite an incident in Zanesville, Ohio in 2011 as an example of why this bill is needed. However, while tragic, Ohio recently past legislation addressing the issues. Most states already strictly regulate the possession of big cats. South Carolina just passed a ban on big cats as pets in this legislative session.

Ironically, most of the accidents with big cats, lethal and otherwise, have occurred at AZA zoos that would be exempted from this legislation; most notably, San Francisco Zoo in 2007 when a tiger killed a patron and injured two others— and more recently, Palm Beach Zoo in 2016 when a tiger killed a zookeeper. There are only a small handful of states that don’t strictly regulate big cats. Ohio now has some of the strictest regulations in the country. Outside of AZA accredited facilities, a death from a big cat hasn’t been recorded since 2003.

At the end of the day, animal welfare is not under the purview of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act was designed to address wildlife trafficking. Further, FWS is not equipped to administer animal welfare regulations. Undoubtedly, funding for this unprecedented and duplicative overreach will be difficult to appropriate under the current administration. Proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act have misled bill sponsors and committee members. There is no crisis looming. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is not about public safety. It is about picking favorites and eliminating zoos and aquariums that will not voluntarily adopt the policies of the animal rights movement.

Compromise
With the help of Dan Ashe and the AZA, HSUS and IFAW are attempting to build political support for a hearing on H.R. 1818 before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. After years of failure petitioning USDA to institutionalize their ideology under the guise of public safety, these animal rights groups hope to have success by changing their tact and selling their brand of “public safety” to lawmakers at Natural Resources unfamiliar with animal welfare issues.

If proponents truly wanted only to stop pet ownership of big cats, the solution would be quite simple— amend the H.R. 1818 with a straight forward USDA exemption— without all of the qualifications that make it a de facto AZA exemption. The fact is, the USDA already regulates all legitimate zoos and aquariums regardless of trade association affiliation. Requiring USDA licensing would end the practice of keeping big cats as pets and legitimate non-AZA zoos would not be penalized or coerced into a choice between trade associations. Additionally, this compromise avoids using the Lacey Act to usurp the integrity of the Animal Welfare Act. Without an equitable amendment, zoos and aquariums across the country will likely oppose the Big Cat Public Safety Act.