Canadian beavers in Patagonia’s forests: environmental ethics and invasive species management

Andrea Galassi

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, beavers, the largest rodents in North America, are “one of the few species that significantly modify their environment.” By erecting of watertight dams of sticks woven with reeds, branches and saplings, which are caulked with mud, they diminish the stream erosion and form slow-moving ponds. As we can imagine, these ponds serve as habitat for a wide range of small aquatic life and also provide water and food for much larger animals. However, in some parts of the world, beavers had generated a decrease in the biomass and the volume of the forests, especially those classified, as “protected forests” because of they are associated with watercourses, an impact that is difficult to overcome in a natural way. Such is the case of Patagonian forests in Argentina and Chile.

beaver overpopulation — Tierra del Fuego

Going back in history, in 1946 10 pairs of beavers (Castor Canadensis) were brought from Manitoba to the Argentinian archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in an attempt to bring the fur industry to the area. But what Argentina´s military government ignored was the fact that beavers had no natural predators— like wolves, lynx, or coyotes— in the area in contrast to North America, which is home to bears and wolves. Thus the population swelled over the last 70 years, causing damage to thousands of old-growth trees –like Nothofagus or southern beeches forests- and peat bogs. In addition, the species has a serious impact on the ecosystem services of the turbines, which also have a specific role in basin regulation, in sustaining biodiversity and for their global contribution to carbon sequestration. Moreover, beaver dams –some of which I´ve actually witnessed myself when a recent visit to “Bahia Lapataia”, Tierra del Fuego- are so dominate that researchers can identify them in satellites images.

It was not until the 1990s that the governments of Argentina and Chile began to realize the magnitude of their beaver problem. Even though they tried to encourage recreational and commercial beaver hunting, trained hundreds of locals to trap encouraged restaurants to serve beaver-meat recipes and put a bounty on each beaver they could not reverse the damage because of low fur prices and hunting difficulties. Moreover, according to Alejandro Valenzuela -conservation coordinator for Argentina’s Southern Patagonia National Parks- the program caused more ecological damage than it saved: since beavers are territorial, the movement of a beaver colony from a pond, will allow new beavers will move in, but they won’t use the old dam. Instead, they will build a new dam, felling more trees and creating a larger pond in the process.

After several discussions, in 2008 Argentinian government –in cooperation with the Republic of Chile – began a 10-year mission to exterminate 100,000 beavers with traps and training hunters to eventually eradicate the species. Through the Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Government established a Pilot Program in order to provide governance of invasive alien species. In 2019, preliminary results from a pilot project in Esmeralda-Lasifashaj region, which ran from October 2016 to January 2017 and from March to May 2017, were released. The studies show that “eradication was not achieved using the methods and efforts in the first part of the pilot study” [highlighting] “the need for more effort or the application of different techniques or trapping strategies. For example, daily checking of traps may cause the animals to be cautious so, the next step in the Programme will involve exploring alternative trapping methods to reduce disturbance”.

Consequently, at this moment all the efforts are centralized in the eradication and the fact that Argentina and Chile will also have to figure out how to restore the forests that have already been damaged by the beavers. This will be a next step. However, as an Animal Law student there are ethical questions for and against specific actions about the eradication of beavers as non-native specie from Patagonia that necessarily arise here. For instance, are beavers as individual sentient animals opposite to the value (at the species level) of plants and trees in Patagonia, and its ecosystems as well? Furthermore, is killing for conservation justified in order to eradicate invasive species?

Conservation Biology is “a multidisciplinary science that has developed to address the loss of biological diversity.” Its two central goals are “to evaluate human impacts on biological diversity and to develop practical approaches to prevent the extinction of species”. In other words, there is an inherent idea that CB is conformed by both value judgments and ethical decisions. Moreover, in the last few years Ethics and Animal Welfare have been presented an optional and newly born approach: the Compassionate Conservation Approach which aims to safeguard Earth’s biological diversity while retaining a commitment to treating individuals “with respect and concern for their well-being.” Even though there are currently two sides – those who consider killing to be unacceptable in any situation; and those who think it might be acceptable when there’s no other solution- by embracing animal ethics, the Compassionate Conservation Approach offers an interesting viewpoint by bringing the practices and sciences of animal welfare and conservation biology closer together and by envisioning the application of specific ethical arguments to improve the status quo of beavers versus ecosystem in Patagonia. The application of environmental ethics to political decisions can be crucial for understanding and settling our responsibility towards the multiple problems that currently affect our planet.

Border Walls & Climate Change

Alexis Tomaino

Scientists now estimate that “half of all life” is “on the move” in direct response to anthropogenic climate change.  Yet at the very moment when ecological corridors for animal migrations should be safeguarded and prospectively secured because of climate change, more nations are constructing international barriers as a national security tool to impede human migration. Walls erected along international boundaries in the name of national security have unintended but significant consequences for biodiversity: they reduce the area, quality, and connectivity of plant and animal habitats.  And they block the ability of species to migrate and relocate to more suitable habitats.

            Since 1945, the number of large-scale, transnational border walls has increased from seven to 77, most built for the sole purpose of blocking human migration. This is a global crisis: in Africa, a barrier between Somalia and Kenya, made of barbed wire, concrete, and posts is nearing completion and a 1,700-mile sand wall fortified and surrounded by millions of land mines was built by Morocco along disputed, ungoverned territory on its border with Western Sahara. In Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an iron wall around the Xinjiang region. In Central America, Ecuador has erected concrete panels along the Peruvian border.  In Europe, a mile-long wall exists at Calais, France funded by the United Kingdom to prevent migrants from accessing the Channel Tunnel and the Baltic States are raising a fence along their eastern frontier. And, in North America, the United States President Donald Trump has pledged to construct a “great wall” (the “Trump Wall”) along the 1,933 mile-long southern border between the United States and Mexico (the “Border”)—and in the process bisect a continent—in response to what he called a national security threat of human migration. 

            Although the construction of Trump Wall has been debated for a variety of reasons including illegal diversion of funds earmarked by Congress to fund the wall, largely absent from such discussions is a meaningful analysis of the devastating impact of such a wall on species’ climate change adaptation.  The border wall not only divides communities where millions of people live, it also cuts through the habitats of more than 1,500 wildlife species, disrupting a fragile and unique web of life in the borderlands. Aside from the physical wall, construction vehicle disturbance as well as lighting and noise pollution will wreak havoc on wildlife and sensitive habitat. Two animals—the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis)— help bring this abstract problem into focus.  What’s undeniable is that the 654 miles of walls and fences already along the Border have cut off, isolated, and reduced populations of these amazing animals. 

A cat with its mouth open

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            “Drive slowly. Ocelots” signs still pepper the campus of the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, located just twenty miles from the Border, harkening to the days when these small, spotted and striped felines roamed broadly throughout the Southwest.  But any actual sighting of ocelots now is a rarity.  Biologists estimate that fewer than 50 remain in the U.S.  Because of these small populations, the Trump Wall would, inter alia, weaken these species’ genetic health by blocking access to suitable mates in Mexico.  Populations with low genetic diversity are poorly suited to adapt to changing environmental conditions, shrinking habitats or new diseases.  Thus, without a concerted relocation plan, the ocelot would become extirpated in the U.S. because the Trump Wall result in the loss of connectivity with other ocelots.  

A herd of zebra standing on top of a dry grass field

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            Known as the “prairie ghost,” the Sonoran Pronghorn is a small antelope with a reddish-brown coat, white belly, and white and black face with shiny black horns.  These animals are the fastest land animal in North America. Only 400 Sonoran Pronghorn are estimated to remain in the wild with only 160 left in the United States.  In addition to weakening these species’ genetic health by blocking access to suitable mates in Mexico, Sonoran Pronghorn move nomadically in response to changing forage conditions and water availability as a result of sporadic rainfall and are uniquely susceptible to drought conditions that are expected to increase as a result of climate change.  Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends in its 2015 Draft Recovery Plan for Sonoran Pronghorn that the ability to migrate to water sources be preserved.  Because they require large expanses of contiguous habitat to persist in the harsh desert environment, the Trump Wall would almost certainly result in the extinction of the Sonoran Pronghorn.

            The inherent conflict between the use of a Border wall as a “national security” tool to control human migration and the need to protect ecological migration corridors along the Border for species survival and ecosystem health in light of climate change must be resolved in favor of the animals.  Time is of the essence.  The Border is not yet completely walled-off and vital migration corridors still remain.  But to add insult to injury, many of these critical areas are on federal land which makes them the easiest to construct upon because the land is already under federal control.  For example, the Lower Rio Grande Valley includes protected areas home to a vast array of wildlife including endangered and threatened species with ranges not restricted to one country.  Indeed, the primary wildlife conservation strategy has been to link habitat patches that are isolated due to intense agriculture, urbanization, and security fencing, in order to create and maintain a more continuous wildlife corridor for the species that migrate and move among habitat areas. In south Texas alone, the federal government has spent over $80 million in taxpayer money to support piecemeal aggregation of the refuge which today exceeds 90,000 acres. These federal efforts to conserve the rich and diverse biology are imminently threatened by the proposed Border wall. And the eyes of the world are upon us.  The United States should cease construction of the Border Wall and commence a prioritization of animal migration corridors in light of climate change.  If we do not, we have no ability to speak out when others perpetuate the same mistake.

Denver Stops Bullying the Bully Breeds

Emma Campbell

Pit bulls were banned from Denver in 1989. There have been many legal challenges to the law and in 2004, the Colorado state legislature outlawed breed-specific bans. However, this only lasted about a year because the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that dog breeds were a local issue, and therefore the city had a right to ban pit bulls under their home rule authority.

Fast forward to 2020, Denver City Council passed a bill lifting the ban, replacing it with a registration system. Despite this glimmer of hope for the bully breeds the mayor vetoed the bill citing his uncertainty. The City Council had the opportunity to override that veto on February 24th. However, they were unable to get the votes.

When it comes to breed specific laws there is strong support and opposition from the public. There are outspoken members of the community on both sides, which can be seen in Denver as this law has been a topic of discussion. Two important questions to consider is why do these bans garner so much controversy and do they work?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, 800,000 of them receiving medical attention, half of them being children. So, dog bites can pose a serious health risk. Denver initially implemented the ban because of two very severe attacks, one resulting in the death of a young boy.

However, the issue is very complex and any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. There are many factors that determine a particular dog’s chance of injuring a person, including their individual history, behavior, size, number of dogs involved, and the vulnerability of the person bitten. Breed-specific bans try to simplify a complex social problem and in doing so these laws divert resources away from actually fixing the problem.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has highlighted several reasons why breed-specific bans and restrictions are not a responsible approach to dog bite prevention:

  • Breed-specific laws can be difficult to enforce because a dog’s breed cannot always be determined by how it appears. “Pit bulls” are the most frequent targets of breed-specific legislation and they are not even a breed.
  • Breed-specific legislation is discriminatory against responsible owners and their dogs.
  • Breed bans do not address the social issue of irresponsible pet ownership.
  • It is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds because the data reported is often unreliable. This is because:
    • The breed of a biting dog is often not known or is reported inaccurately.
    • The actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, especially if they don’t result in serious injury.
    • The number of dogs of a particular breed or combination of breeds in a community is not known because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed. For example, Denver City Council noted that approximately only 20% of dog owners have their dog registered with the town.
    • Statistics often do not consider multiple incidents caused by a single animal.
    • Breed popularity changes over time, making comparison of breed-specific bite rates unreliable.

The AVMA also highlights strategies for dog bite prevention:

  • Enforcement of generic, non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws, with an emphasis on chronically irresponsible owners.
  • Enforcement of animal control ordinances such as leash laws, by trained animal care and control officers.
  • Prohibition of dog fighting.
  • Encouraging neutering for dogs not intended for breeding.
  • School-based and adult education programs that teach pet selection strategies, pet care and responsibility, and bite prevention.

The AVMA is not alone. There is a long list of groups from varying points of view that voice concern over the implementation of breed specific bans, like the CDC, Humane Society, American Bar Association, State Farm Insurance, and the United States Department of Justice, just to name a few.

Denver is not alone, there are are various municipalities throughout the United States that have breed specific bans. Also, all military bases exclude pit bulls, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, chow chows, and wolf hybrids. There is no evidence that shows that these bans are successful. It is often argued by ban advocates that there is no evidence that it is not successful, and it is better to be safe than sorry. That may sound good, but the issue is that good dogs and responsible dog owners are punished because of an unwarranted fear. The evidence does show that the way people treat their animals has a direct correlation with how their animal behaves. Instead of worrying about the dog in your neighbor’s yard, you should worry about your neighbor.

“Furever” Home or Hospice? New FDA Regulation Approves Animal Abuse and Allows Labs to put the Abused up for Adoption

Giovanna DiFilippo

Humans have used animals for experimentation in biomedical research as far back as ancient Greco-Roman times. Classic philosophers, including the likes of Aristotle and Erasistratus, recorded their experiments on animals and their writings are some of the first records of animal testing in existence. There is no doubt that animal testing has been widely utilized by experimentalists in biomedical research. Such inquiries have helped humankind to advance many of the medical developments we use today. However, technology is rapidly expanding upon society’s biomedical research and it is no longer necessary for humans to experiment on animals. In fact, many biomedical companies and cosmetics companies that test on animals have been subjected to societal pressure to cease testing on animals. Just last week the Food and Drug Administration publicly announced that it will endorse a policy that allows laboratory animals to be adopted once they are no longer needed for experimental use. Many animal rights activists view this new policy as a victory for laboratory animals, but it only perpetuates the interests of the laboratories in experimenting on these animals.

            According to Cruelty Free International, testing on animals is defined as “any scientific experiment or test in which a live animal is forced to undergo something that is likely to cause them pain and suffering.” The animals are harmed deliberately and not for their own interests, but for the interests of furthering scientific inquiry for the overall benefit of society. Some experiments commonly performed on animals in laboratories include injecting animals with known toxic substances, exposing animals to radiation, performing surgery to purposefully remove vital organs and tissues, and forcing animals to inhale poisonous fumes. The most popular animals used to experiment on in laboratories are by far rats and mice. However, laboratories also use fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, farm animals, birds, cats, dogs and nonhuman primates.

            For years the Food and Drug Administration has defended animal testing on the basis that animal testing is essential for some medical devices where nonanimal testing would not be a viable option. However, biomedical technology has advanced enough to where a scientist can now reproduce human tissues and perform accurate experiments on that laboratory created human biological material. Yet the Food and Drug Administration maintains that animal testing reliably measures how much of a drug is absorbed into the blood stream, how a medical product is chemically broken down in the body, the toxicity of a product and how quickly that product is excreted from the body. These justifications do not take into consideration how nonhuman animals are imperfect specimens for predicting how such experiments would affect the human body.

            These laboratories obtain their animals from “class A” dealers and “class B” dealers. “Class A” dealers are those in the business of breeding animals exclusively for their use in these scientific experiments. The “class B” dealers are merely brokers who sell animals to these laboratories after acquiring them from animal shelters. Those animals who survive these abhorrent experiments are typically euthanized by the scientists that experiment on them. This new policy of the Food and Drug Administration to adopt “retired” lab animals as pets is not a new concept. Other agencies, such as the National Institute of Health and the Department of Veteran Affairs, have also supported similar policies of their own encouraging the adoption of retired laboratory dogs. No federal legislation or policy currently exists surrounding this issue.

            Many animal rights activists are celebrating the Food and Drug Administration’s new policy supporting the adoption of laboratory animals after they are no longer needed for experimental use. However, no substantial change was seen when the other agencies, such as the NIH and VA, adopted similar policies. Animals are still going to be tortured relentlessly by scientists in the name of scientific discovery and biomedical research. Animal advocates should not celebrate the recognition that these animals need homes only at the end of their experimental use. Instead, animal advocates should increase their focus on preventing the use of animals for experimental testing in the laboratories. By supporting these weak policies, animal advocates are communicating to the agencies and public that it is permissible to treat the animals as scientific commodities and, only if they survive the horrors of the lab, are they worthy of the privilege of living a healthier life.

            Even the promise of a happy and healthy retirement for laboratory animals is reprehensible. For their entire lives these animals are kept in solitude and abhorrent conditions. Most have no idea what it feels like to live outside of a small wired cage. They have been forced to undergo surgeries, ingest toxic chemicals, inhale poisonous fumes and live in high anxiety environments. Most animals will be untrusting of humans and thus would not be suitable for a family. Some others will become very sick and not survive very long in their adoptive homes.  Pulling the survivors out of these labs is comparable to releasing a cancer patient from their hospital room to live out their final days in hospice; it’s a nicer alternative than dying alone in a tiny cage, but it does not remedy what the laboratories are enabled to do to these animals in the future. It instead allows for more animals to be subject to this torturous life, only to be granted a final few years, months or days in a loving home. Animal activists and advocates alike need to save their celebratory sentiment for a larger purpose and continue the fight for animal liberation from these laboratories that exist to solely torture these vulnerable souls.

NYC Foie Gras Ban

Amy Allen

          

n October 2019, the New York City Council voted to ban force-fed poultry products, like the culinary delicacy, foie gras, French for “fatty liver.” The ban begins in 2022, which gives establishments and the government a three years preparation period. The fines range between $500 and $2,000, depending on the severity of the violation. The ban does not allow any restaurant or food service establishment to “stor[e], maintain, sell, or offer to sell” any foie gras product. Generally, male Moulard ducks, a hybrid between Muscovy and Pekin, are used for foie gras in the United States. This new legislation brought fierce debate between animal rights groups and chefs who have also partnered with foie gras producers.

            The legislation was initially proposed by animal rights groups for the cruel and inhumane practices of force-fed poultry generally used called gavage. This practice involves force feeding live poultry a corn-based mixture, up to four pounds a day, that rapidly expands the poultry’s liver, sometimes so severely that the liver distends into the abdomen. The poultry’s liver can expand nearly 10 times its normal size. Often, the poultry is unable to walk from the distention and will pluck out its own feathers or attack other poultry due to the increased stress put onto its body. In France, gavage is required if a pâté is called foie gras.

            In France, a prominent group of animal activists, L214, tried to sue foie gras producers for animal welfare violations in 2013. The French activist released graphic videos of the conditions the animals are placed under and filed the first ever foie gras lawsuit. Even though the producer was cleared of all charges, several prominent French chefs vowed to stop using foie gras as part of their menu.

            However, other famous chefs continued to support the use of foie gras, such as Anthony Bourdain who famously commented that people were showing the worst aspects of the problem out of context to scare people and that the cultural history was the important aspect of the luxury item. Another prominent New York City restaurant owner, Ken Oringer, argued that city council members were fighting the wrong battle and factory farmed chickens were far worse than foie gras raise poultry. Oringer further agreed with Bourdain that animal rights activists were showing graphic videos to spark outrange that misrepresented the treatment of the animals. In the end, the city council found that force feeding animals was inhumane and a practice that had to be stopped in New York City.

            Several animal rights activist groups have supported the bill due to the cruelty the practice inflicts on the poultry. The groups point to the fact that foie gras is a purely luxury item for cuisine, but it puts poultry through intense and immense stress. A few days after New York City created the ban, Voters For Animal Rights filed law suit against D’Artagnan, Inc. and D’Artagnan, LLC, foie gras producers based in Union, New Jersey. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but injunctive relief against “deceptive marketing and advertising practices” that suggests their foie gras product do not harm animals.

            Hudson Valley Foie Gras, located about 100 miles north of New York City in Sullivan County, one of the largest force-fed poultry producers with over 400 employees, and its manager, Marcus Henley, continually defends the practice and say that the facility properly cares for the poultry. Hudson Valley Foie Gras is one of two businesses in Sullivan County that provide foie gras for most of the United States. Both Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle, the other Sullivan County Foie Gras producer, sell nearly $38 million in foie gras annually and send around a third of their production to New York City. Hudson Valley Foie Gras has said that it will file a lawsuit against the city challenging the ban as unconstitutional. The ban will place a financial burden on the poorest county in New York state where most of the workers are Spanish-speaking immigrants, many of whom rely on the free housing provided by the farm.

The Enduring Battle Over America’s Wild Horses

Ben Pierce

There is a fight going on out west – a fight over how we should treat our wild horses.  On one side is the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), an agency within the U.S. Department of Interior charged with administering the Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.  This statute “declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” and tasks BLM with managing and protecting wild free roaming horses “as components of the public lands.”  On the other side of the fight is arrayed a multitude of animal protection organizations, such as the Animal Welfare Institute and the American Wild Horse Campaign, that are highly critical of BLM’s treatment of wild horses.

Photo by Christine Mendoza

A recent pair of dueling pieces in the Salt Lake City Tribune shed light on this ongoing battle.  Last month, William Perry Pendley, deputy director for policy and programs for BLM, wrote that wild horses pose an “existential threat to our public lands.”  According to Pendley, when wild horse herds are “left Continue reading

Horse Racing: An Elitist Sport or Animal Abuse?

Erika-Marie Kissh

The life of a racehorse is one that even before its conception is planned out and greatly influenced by human beings. Their birth, life, and death, are unnatural and can be seen as out-and-out abuse in every stage of the horses’ life. The main reason why racehorses are forced to live such unnatural lives at the hands of humans is because horse-racing is an extremely lucrative “sport”. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities estimates that prize money for races worldwide is approximately $3.5 billion dollars a year, and the global industry of horse-race betting makes approximately $116 billion dollars of revenue in a given year.

For thoroughbred racehorses, in particular, their conception and birth is planned out as meticulously as possible to ensure maximum race training time. Mares are forced to Continue reading