A coyote hunting contest near Burns, Oregon, went ahead largely as planned this past weekend after a Harney County Circuit Court judge rejected a petition for a restraining order brought by wildlife conservation organization Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. According to the Bend Bulletin, the JKM Coyote Hunt organizer called the judge’s ruling “ineffectual,” although he reportedly called off planned betting on which team would kill the greatest number of coyotes after the judge ruled that such betting constituted unlawful gambling. Under ORS 30.780, unlawful gambling is subject to civil liability.

The killing was also restricted to private land after the Bureau of Land Management refused to allow pursuit of coyotes on federal land without a special-use permit. Commercial activities on public federal lands require special use permits and an environmental review to determine their impact on the ecosystem and the quality of the human environment. Eugene, Oregon-based Predator Defense, which alerted BLM to the planned wildlife killing contest, called the event a “wildlife atrocity.” The group noted that such a contest, which apparently offered free admission to children under 16, teaches children cruelty and brutality, increases predation on livestock, and exacerbates conflicts between wildlife, ranchers, and farmers. Media quoted the coyote hunt organizer as stating that he “wouldn’t encourage or discourage hunters from going onto public land in search of coyotes for the contest.”

The Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) notes that coyote calling contestants “use two basic techniques, both involving mechanical, commercially manufactured- and marketed- calls. The first is to imitate the cries of coyotes in distress, and the second includes imitating a downed prey animal, usually a deer or rabbit. Coyotes then come to investigate what they perceive to be a fellow coyote in trouble or a possible meal. Waiting for the coyotes is a two-person team of hunkered-down, camouflaged killers—a shooter with a high-powered, long-range, tripod-balanced, scope-mounted rifle, often equipped with an electronic range finder; and a spotter using powerful binoculars to search the countryside for any signs of a coyote on a mission of mercy or in search of a meal.”

HSUS also noted “ways to protect livestock from coyotes that really do work, such as electric fencing, strobe lights, and guard animals—including dogs and llamas—who integrate very well into livestock herds.” Given such options, and the ineffectual nature of predator contest killing events on population control, the JKM Coyote Hunt ruling underscores the need for a ballot measure banning wildlife killing for entertainment and prize money.

Related Wildlife Protection Resources

Dylan J. Darling, Coyote Hunt Still on for Crane, Bend Bulletin, Jan. 15, 2014.
Predator Defense
Hhy Killing Coyotes Doesn’t Work, Humane Society of the United States

A petition filed yesterday in the New York Supreme Court in Fulton County may be both a capstone to the Nonhuman Rights Project (“NhRP”) and the cornerstone of what Stephen Wise has called “a sustained, strategic litigation campaign that led to a breach of the personhood barrier which currently divides humans from non-humans.” The NhRP plans to file three additional petitions in New York, all seeking the common-law writ of habeas corpus and the immediate release to sanctuaries of captive chimpanzees.

As an animal law attorney who had the great privilege of working with Professor Wise and other members of the NhRP, Karuna Law founder Dane Johnson hopes fervently that all are successful. A thoroughly researched memorandum supporting the first petition for a common-law writ of habeas corpus–and a voluminous stack of authorities supporting the autonomous nature and complex cognitive abilities of chimps–make probably the best possible case in history for granting limited rights to these nonhuman primates.

In an Animal Law article on permitting animals to benefit from their creativity by extending certain copyright protections to their works, Dane Johnson noted that neither the copyright statute nor the Constitution limited the rights granted to authors to human creators. The NhRP advances a similar argument for extending habeas protection to chimpanzees. It’s an argument rooted solidly in both legal and moral precedent and one that the judges considering the historic petition should embrace.

New York’s judges have an honorable history of recognizing the need to reshape long-obsolete laws. In Corso v. Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital, Inc., 415 N.Y.S. 2d 182 (1979), for example, the court held that damages recoverable by a plaintiff whose deceased dog’s body was wrongfully lost included mental anguish. It explained that to “say [a dog] is a piece of personal property and no more is a repudiation of our humaneness.” Denying the right to live the life of a chimpanzee in an accredited sanctuary to Tommy (who now lives in a cage at a trailer lot in Gloversville, New York), Kiko (who is deaf and lives in a private home), and Hercules and Leo (who are being used in experiments at Stony Brook University), would repudiate our humaneness to an even greater degree.

Related Animal Rights Resources
Memorandum of Law in Support of Order to Show Cause and Writ of Habeas Corpus and Order Granting the Immediate Release of Tommy.
Statute of Anne-imals: Should Copyright Protect Sentient Non-Human Creators?
15 Animal Law Review 15 (2008).

The unlawful taking (killing) of approximately 163 golden eagles, other raptors, and smaller birds including larks, buntings, and sparrows, at Duke Energy Renewables, Inc.’s wind power facilities in Wyoming has resulted in criminal convictions under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”), 16 U.S.C. § 701. The MBTA provides that, unless and except as permitted by regulation, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or attempt to take, capture, or kill any “migratory bird.” 16 U.S.C. § 703. A migratory bird is any of the approximately 800 MBTA-listed species. Birds protected include all common songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, hawks, owls, eagles, ravens, crows, native doves and pigeons, swifts, martins, swallows and others, including their body parts (feathers, plumes, etc), nests, and eggs. Enacted in 1918, the federal law still came too late for species like the Great Auk and Passenger Pigeon, which were driven to extinction largely by hunting.

The defendant was sentenced to pay $1 million in restitution and fines split between the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the state of Wyoming, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and a conservation fund for the purchase of land in Wyoming for golden eagle habitat. It also was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement a plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four wind projects in the state.

Prosecutors alleged failure to make all reasonable efforts to build the defendant’s wind power projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warnings that company surveys might not be sufficient to determine how best to site turbines to avoid or minimize take of migratory birds, particularly eagles. Golden eagle carcasses found near the turbines had sustained injuries consistent with wind turbine blade impacts.

Wind turbine projects present birds with four primary hazards: collision with wind turbines, collision with associated meteorological towers, collision with, or electrocution by, associated electrical power facilities, and nest abandonment or behavior avoidance from habitat modification. Due diligence during the pre-construction stage of a wind project in surveying the wildlife present in the proposed project area, determining whether the risk to wildlife is too high to justify proceeding and, if not, carefully siting turbines to avoid and minimize the risk as much as possible, is critically important for wind projects. This is especially so since there are no post-construction remedies, except shut down that can “render safe” a wind turbine placed in a location of high avian collision risk.

The convictions contrast with the dismissal of a similar recent case involving MBTA violations. In United States v. Brigham Oil & Gas, L.P., 840 F. Supp. 2d 1202 (D.N.D. 2012), the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota dismissed misdemeanor criminal charges against three oil and gas companies after migratory birds were killed through contact with unprotected oil reserve pits operated by the defendants. Despite the opinion in Brigham that the MBTA does not apply to “indirect, unintentional commercial activity,” however, courts have broadly upheld convictions under the MBTA for “take” that is incidental to industrial or agricultural activities.

The defendants in the Duke case appear to have recognized as much. The convictions indicate that wind farm owners and operators would be well advised to consider—and comply with—best management practices before operation begins.

Related Migratory Bird Treaty Act Resources
Soumya Karlamangla, Energy Company to Pay $1 million in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths, L.A. Times, Nov. 24, 2013.
Letter from Elliot Williams, Deputy Assistant Attorney Gen., to Senator David Vitter & Senator Lamar Alexander (Nov. 22, 2013).

Water releases to protect migrating Chinook salmon in the Klamath/Trinity rivers in Northern California should move forward under a ruling this week by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill lifted a temporary restraining order that had stalled the releases pending further legal argument.

The releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off from again impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary, as it did in 2002. The fish kill that year had severe impacts on tribal fishing rights, the ecology, and commercial fishing interests. Experts in the case decided today agreed that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.

The court noted that the “stated purpose of the planned releases is to ‘reduce the likelihood, and potentially reduce the severity, of any Ich epizootic event that could lead to associated fish die off in 2013′ in the lower Klamath River.” Ich is a fish parasite that thrives in slow-moving water, especially when that water is crowded with fish, as is expected during this year’s salmon run. Weighing the risks of harm to large agricultural interests against the risks of harm to the environment absent water flow augmentation, Judge O’Neill reasoned that “on balance, considering the significantly lower volume of water now projected to be involved and the potential and enormous risk to the fishery of doing nothing,” the water releases should occur as planned.

Related Environmental Law Resources
Read the federal court decision:
San-Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Auth. v. Jewell, No. 1:13-CV-012320LJO-GSA (order lifting temp. restraining order & denying mot. for prelim. inj.).

Water in Oregon’s Klamath Basin follows the state’s “prior appropriation” doctrine of water use, like the water in most western states. When there is not enough water to satisfy all the water rights, water users with senior priority dates will receive water, while water users with relatively junior rights will not. Water users who are “first in time” are “first in right.”

Earlier this year, a lengthy adjudication process culminated in determinations of claims to the use of surface water in the Klamath River Basin. Water users with recognized claims could thereafter make calls for regulation of junior water users if doing so would result in additional water being available to the senior user. For the first time, the water rights of the Klamath Tribes and irrigators in the federal Klamath Project are legally recognized.

Yesterday, those rights holders made their calls for water, asking Oregon to enforce rights recognized in the adjudication process. The water calls come when flows into Upper Klamath Lake are only 40% of normal, reducing flows vital for fish including the endangered shortnose and Lost River suckers. They mean that some southern Oregon ranchers will have to reduce or completely shut down irrigation this summer.

The area’s water struggles became a focus of national attention in the drought year of 2001, when farmers suffered economic losses due to irrigation cutbacks forced by the drought. The next year, farmers got more water under Bush administration directives, but 64,000 adult salmon died in the Lower Klamath River before they were able to reach their spawning grounds. The destruction of the Klamath’s fisheries by dams and agricultural wastewater has caused many other people to suffer devastating economic losses.

Whenever water must be left in rivers to protect threatened salmon and other species, tensions are certain to escalate. They are likely to flare in the Klamath Basin this summer.

Related Oregon Water Rights Resources
Klamath Tribes Call in Their Water Rights, OPB, June 10, 2013.
Bettina Boxall, Winners in Harsh Battle for Klamath River Water Claim Their Rights, L.A. Times, June 10, 2013.
Oregon Water Resources Dep’t Klamath River Basin Adjudication

Wolves, cougars, and dogs may see some slight increases in legal protections after the Oregon legislature’s current session. According to an Oregonian report, “cougars won’t be treed by packs of hounds. Wolves may not be shot on sight unless they’re caught with a piece of lamb or cow in their mouths. The practice of roping and tripping horses is on its way to being outlawed.”

The Equine tripping bill, SB 835, has strong bipartisan support. The wolf bill, HB 3452, is also likely to pass. HB 3452 would require that endangered gray wolves be caught in the act of attacking livestock or working dogs or in the act of chasing livestock before killing them would be permitted. It would not allow any killing of wolves that is not permitted under the federal Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531.

Another bill expected to become law would make it illegal to leash a dog with a tether that is too short or causes death or injury. The same bill, HB 2783, also prohibits chaining or tying a dog for over 10 hours a day unless the tether is attached to a running line, pulley, or trolley system. Even then, tying a dog longer than 15 hours a day would be unlawful.

A bill that would have allowed using dogs to hunt cougars failed in committee. HB 2624 proposed to allow counties to opt out of a law passed by Oregon voters in 1994 and reaffirmed two years later that bans the use of dogs to hunt cougars for sport. Ignoring the clear will of these majorities and the advice of biologists, HB 2624 sought to allow trophy hunters to pursue and kill cougars using packs of radio-collared hounds for sport. Research studies have shown that increased cougar killing increases risk to the public by creating an unnatural number of juvenile cougars in the population. Juveniles have been shown to be the age class most frequently involved in human conflicts.

Related Oregon Animal Law Resources
Harry Esteve, Critters are Catching Some Breaks at the Oregon Legislature, Oregonian, May 29, 2013.

Undercover video surveillance of animal cruelty in Tennessee will not have to be surrendered to law enforcement, thanks to the veto this week of an “Animal Cruelty and Abuse Act” that would have effectively criminalized abuse investigations. The bill would have required any “person who intentionally records . . . for the purpose of documenting the offense of cruelty to animals committed against livestock, within 48 hours, or by the close of business the next business day, whichever is later, to [r]eport such violation to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the alleged offense; and [s]ubmit any unedited photographs, digital images or video recordings to law enforcement authorities.” Failure to do so would have been a Class C misdemeanor offense.

Ag-Gag bills have been passed or proposed in some 17 states–despite significant First Amendment violations. As Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, has said, “It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it.” In suppressing and chilling speech, Ag-Gag legislation aims at activists, not abusers. The effect of Ag-Gag laws is to silence whistleblowers and deny consumers the right to know how farmed animals are treated before being killed for food.

Multiple undercover investigations have recorded workers punching and kicking pigs, stomping on turkeys, and forcing crippled and sick cows onto fork lifts to be hauled to slaughter. The power of video to expose such egregious animal cruelty has led to slaughterhouse closings, animal cruelty convictions, and the largest beef recall in U.S. history. Video evidence can also expose environmental abuse. Farmed animal feeding operations, for example, generate huge amounts of waste that can and does threaten soil and water. Factory farms and other industrial facilities have been found flagrantly violating federal and state laws that require minimizing environmental damage because of undercover investigations that have exposed the violations.

But activists’ use of video to throw open the slaughterhouse door has the power to accomplish something even more important for animals and the environment. It can shape the perception that animal welfare improvements are not enough and that animal exploitation must end. As Professor Gary Francione has noted, we “need to get people thinking differently about animal ethics. We need to focus people away from the issue of treatment–and away from the idea that there is “abusive” treatment and “non-abusive” treatment–-and toward the idea that we cannot morally justify use. Period.” The more that Ag-Gag laws shield animal cruelty from public view, the less the public believes that it is occurring anymore, and the easier it becomes convinced that “humane” animal exploitation is not itself horrific cruelty that is simply not morally acceptable.

Our Portland animal lawyers consider cases involving defense of animal and environmental activism, including undercover investigations, whistleblowing, and protest activity. Contact us for a free confidential consultation.

Related First Amendment Resources
Lauren Gazzola, “Ag-Gagging”: Are We Kept in the Dark, or Willfully Blind When it Comes to Animal Cruelty?, Common Dreams, May 14, 2013.
Gary L. Francione, A Brief Note on “Ag-Gag” Laws, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

Horse roping or horse tripping is the practice of roping the front or hind legs of a galloping horse, tripping and sending the animal crashing to the ground. Texas, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Rhode Island, and Maine have banned equine tripping. Oregon has not yet done so. But a ban on the cruel “sport,” S.B. 835, passed the Senate in April and is now making its way through the Oregon House.

Media covering a Salem hearing on S.B. 835 yesterday quoted State Representative David Gomberg as noting that “horse tripping is alive and very well here in Oregon. Horses used in these events suffer broken legs, broken necks, rope burn, cuts, and abrasions.” The proposed anti-cruelty law would prohibit the practice of rodeo equine tripping, making intentionally roping or lassoing the legs of a horse for entertainment or sport a Class B misdemeanor.

Not surprisingly, rodeo participants and supporters lined up to oppose the anti-cruelty legislation, with one quoted as arguing that “simply roping the legs of a horse is an act that should not be banned.” Such an argument implies that a roped horse is merely laid on the ground after having its legs pulled out from under it while running. But recent Oregon rodeo photos show that horse roping and horse tripping are physically and psychologically traumatizing experiences for the animal.

Animal Law Coalition attorney Russ Mead, who has documented equine tripping at an Oregon rodeo, has explained that the practice “involves riders on horseback chasing a horse and causing the animal to flee. When the horse has reached full speed, a rider lassoes one of the horse’s legs, then stops and pulls back on the rope, causing the horse to trip forward and smash full-force onto the ground. In other so-called horse roping practices, a horse is lassoed about the neck and the rope is then pulled down and taut, driving the animal’s head into the ground.”

As Portland animal law attorneys and animal rights lawyers, we believe strongly that equine roping and tripping is animal cruelty that needs to end. Oregon would do well to pass S.B. 835 without amendments immediately.

Related Animal Law Resources
Full text of Oregon Senate Bill 835
Video Oregon Rodeo Exposed, Horses Roped, Tripped, and Slammed to the Ground
Yuxing Zheng, Oregon Senate Votes to Ban Horse Tripping, Affirm Right to Rodeo, The Oregonian, Apr. 16, 2013.

A Pennsylvania no-kill animal shelter is in the news today for its decision to discontinue contracts with local municipalities to accept strays collected by police. According to an article in the Morning Call, the Center for Animal Health and Welfare will continue to serve as a county animal control resource but only on a first-come, first-serve basis. The shelter is reportedly at its capacity, housing some 500 homeless dogs and cats.

Notably for those healthy but unwanted companions, calls from some critics to “cull animals to make room for new strays” were resisted. Animals Attorney blog applauds the shelter’s board, which was quoted as saying that such critics “need to realize that killing dogs and cats isn’t getting at the root of a ballooning stray animal population.”

Spaying, neutering, shutting down puppy mills, and educating buyers on avoiding supporting the “pet trade” are all better methods of reducing homeless companion animal populations. As pro bono legal counsel to nonprofit animal rescue and support groups like the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, we know first hand that spay/neuter helps significantly. Reducing both natural and artificial breeding is the only real answer. The alternative would be mass killing, on a scale approaching that of factory farms. In Oregon alone, for example, nearly 18,000 cats were euthanized in 2010, many because there simply were more cats than available homes.

If you run a nonprofit animal rescue in need of legal services, our Portland animal law office may be able to assist you. Contact us. And if you or someone in your family is looking for a furry friend, stop searching breeder ads and pet stores. Visit your local animal rescue or shelter instead.

The LA Times reported Friday that former Dreamworks animator Young Song pleaded no contest to a felony count of cruelty to an animal after jurors saw a security camera video of Song beating a neighbor’s 16-month-old German shepherd puppy to death with a hammer. “Prosecutors said Song entered a neighbor’s yard and shot the muzzled German shepherd with a pellet gun before returning to beat the animal with a hammer and disposing of its remains.” A NY Daily News report cited a prosecution source as saying that “Song was involved in a dispute with the dog’s owner and that both parties moved from the location after the dog went missing and was presumed dead.”

According to the LA Times article, Pasadena Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis sentenced Song to one year in jail, plus three years of probation and a ban restricting him from owning or caring for any animal for ten years. The prison term appears to be the maximum available for the charged offense under California law. California Penal Code § 597 provides that “[E]every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment . . . .”

Mental health evaluations or counseling are mandatory probation conditions. That’s important given the statistical probability of animal abuse escalating to violence against other human beings. A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that those who had committed a violent crime against an animal were five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Those statistics would seem to be borne out by the beating here being apparently rooted in a dispute between neighbors, with the dog bearing the tragic consequences.

The maximum prison term is entirely appropriate in this case, which involved two weapons, pursuit of the dog by the abuser, and deliberate concealment of the dog’s remains. But the maximum fine should also have been imposed. The Sacramento Bee reported the only information found on a fine in Song’s case, a requirement that he pay his former neighbors $75.00. Not nearly enough, even if the puppy’s life was assessed using mere market value.

If you are the guardian of a dog or other animal that has been killed or injured by someone, our Oregon animal law office may be able to help. Contact Portland animal rights attorney Dane Johnson for a free initial consultation.