Humane treatment of wildlife is urgently needed

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By Julie Marshall

It was the perfect fall day to hit the back roads of Colorado and with a mountain lion in tow. In fact, we had three bear cubs in a refrigerated trailer, which will soon be released in parts unknown, orchestrated by a seasoned ranger driving the car where I was a front passenger.

The conversation focused on the ecological role of a lion and the ethics of rescuing cubs that humans have left vulnerable. Our perfectly wild, hissing animals fit the description well with two hunting orphans and one whose mother was hit by a vehicle; after watching their tawny bottoms disappear into the forest, we called it a good day.

Nearly 15 years later, our wildlife across the West – including the very young – is being rather mindlessly killed in disturbingly increased numbers, and in some cases it’s called legal management. It has become an increasingly hostile environment for wildlife, and for humans trying to help them, to talk.

Just weeks ago, on public lands along the Colorado-Utah border in San Juan County, 16 feral horses were illegally killed, along with 36 feral horses (14 still missing) from the alpine herd in the interior of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona. Bodies were found with gunshot wounds to the head and heart. Six gray wolves from the Wedge pack in northeastern Washington were recently found dead of intentional poisoning with a similar case in Oregon months ago where eight wolves died.

None of these crimes have been solved. Advocacy groups, including my nonprofit, Animal Wellness Action in Washington, DC, along with our Colorado chapter, have joined in offering $35,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the illegal massacre of the ‘Arizona. We can only hope that someone is brave enough to step forward.

Our public lands are protected for all of us to enjoy and we need these safe spaces now more than ever. This forest of horrors should make us wonder why some thugs go so bold as to show their hatred of animals by leaving rotting carcasses in plain sight? Further: why do our professional managers kill the very young as an accepted policy of choice? Our United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services killed eight cubs in their den without thinking about non-lethal measures. It made headlines because this pack was part of an ongoing, multi-year Boise, Idaho, high school study. As one student so aptly put it, “It was so shocking to see that feds were the ones coming into a puppy den to kill them.” The wildlife agency’s response to the killing of helpless pups was simply that “killing juvenile wolves” is legal by any means necessary.

Is it any wonder that a Montana woman around the same time proudly posted bloody photos on her Facebook page saying she “smoked a wolf cub”? It turned out that she had shot a 6 month old Siberian Huskey. She admitted that she thought the dog was part wolf. Anyway, she was smiling at a dead puppy.

This summer in many states, including record numbers in Colorado, feral horses were seriously injured and killed after being fogged by helicopters in Bureau of Land Management legal roundups. Another agency, the National Park Service, has long written biological treatises against burros, but it’s new to find such emotional language that says, on the Death Valley website, “Invasive burros…don’t are NOT native to North America…” Such emphasis is designed to support burro extermination programs and policies. Is it any wonder that dozens of wild donkeys have recently been illegally slaughtered in western lands?

When it comes to setting priorities for our public lands and who can use them, professionals should be able to educate and engage the public without resorting to labeling animals unworthy of existence, which which only promotes hatred and demonization of the species. Non-lethal and humane management methods exist and must be favored for the good of all.

One of the most compelling reasons to seek out, arrest and charge those responsible for illegal acts is public safety. The science is unambiguous that people who deliberately engage in animal abuse are also dangerous to people. Congress has an opportunity to address the connection between animal cruelty and human violence by passing the Animal Cruelty Law Enforcement Act, a bill based on the idea that we need our federal law enforcement apparatus to take animal cruelty seriously and treat animal cruelty as a serious crime that warrants serious investigation.

In addition to the safety of communities and the protection of children, the protection of wildlife and all animals should be a fundamental element Human right. Regardless of where we stand on politics or how we make a living, we can hopefully agree that open season on wolf cubs and the killing of entire families of wild creatures in their habitats is inhumane management and frankly lazy for a dominant species with self-proclaimed stewardship. Wildlife belongs to everyone; it is absolutely a human right to have a healthy and safe environment that protects all life inhabiting the landscape.

Julie Marshall is the former Opinion Editor of the Boulder Daily Camera. She is the Colorado State Director for Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy in Washington, DC. His columns on Colorado’s mountain lions and western bison won first place in the Colorado Press Association’s Better News Media contest last year.

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