Protecting wildlife is vital for our ecosystems and our economy, but unfortunately bad actors are not only damaging a healthy, ecological balance, they are also affecting the Commonwealth's ability to export animal products interstate or overseas. A bill I filed with Representative Ann Margaret-Ferrante, H. 2918, An Act further regulating the enforcement of illegal hunting practices seeks to do two things. First it updates penalties around poaching, something that has not been done in decades or in some cases almost a century, and secondly it brings us into a national information sharing network in effect since the 1980’s.
Under current statute, many of the fines for illegal poaching are as low as $50. Outdated penalties are so light that they do little to deter illegal poaching, and low fines also undervalue the importance of wildlife. Our bill increases the penalty from $50 to $100-$300 or less than 90 days in jail, and suspension of the hunting license for 1-3 years for a first offense hunting without a license. For some perspective, in Wyoming the penalty for a first offense is $10,000; or not more than 1 year in jail plus restitution, and the suspension of your hunting license for not more than 5 years.
The second key component of the bill would allow Massachusetts to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. We are one of only three states in the country that have not yet joined. This Compact, in effect since the 1980’s allows wildlife management agencies in various states to share information with one another. This means that any person whose license privileges or rights are suspended in one member state may also have their license suspended in all other participating states.
Poaching has economic, environmental, and social costs for our state. Poachers steal money from legitimate businesses, especially in the fishing industry taking in thousands of pounds of illegal fish and lobster. Additionally, conservation efforts are undercut when bad actors hunt out of season, or take fish that are too young. We have such a beautiful state with wonderful natural resources, and we should all work to keep it that way.
Elephants in Traveling Circus Acts
While many of us have fond memories of seeing circus elephants perform, what we often don’t like to think about is the treatment elephants receive when they are not in front of the crowds. In captivity, elephants are often subject to abusive treatment such as being chained by their feet and kept in small pens year round while traveling from show to show. This results in these intelligent, sentient, and majestic creatures standing in their own excrement for prolonged periods of time, causing degenerative joint disease and foot disorders which are a leading cause of euthanasia in captive elephants. It is standard practice among elephant trainers to use a “bullhook” to beat and stab elephants into doing tricks their bodies were never meant to handle. We should not teach our children that it is acceptable to profit off of the exploitation of animals, nor turn a blind eye to cruelty just because they don’t personally see it.
Even many of the industry players are realizing that brutality is not good business. In March, 2016, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. by far the largest operator in this space, first announced they will not be using elephants in their circuses. In January, 2017 they followed up with an announcement of the complete closure of the circus. This decision was both economic and a reflection of changing attitudes.
Now law: too hot for spot
It is an all-too common sight on our social media feeds – stories of pets, often but not exclusively dogs, left in dangerously hot cars in grocery store parking lots, at the movies, at shopping centers. As many of us know by now, the inside of a car in the summer is far hotter than outside. An 85-degree summer day can rapidly become 100 degrees inside of a parked car.
That is why Rep. Ehrlich and her colleagues were relieved to pass, and see Governor Baker sign, a bill to establish penalties for anyone who leaves an animal in car in a way that would reasonably threaten their health due to extreme temperatures. The act which Rep. Ehrlich filed with State Senator Mark Montigny also allows volunteers to break the car window as long as the person makes a reasonable effort to locate the owner, notifies 911, and has a reasonable belief that breaking into the car is necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.
Both Good Samaritans and first responders would be protected from civil and criminal punishment. The bill also prohibits a pet owner from keeping a dog tied to a doghouse, pole, or other structure for longer than five hours a day and no more than 15 minutes in extreme weather.
How we treat animals speaks directly to how we treat our fellow human beings. Animals have no voice with which they can advocate for themselves, so it is vital that we treat them humanely and the law is a powerful way to ensure that happens.