Tag Archives: ethics

ACLU files Freedom of Information request for Trump documents

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken legal action seeking documents on conflicts of interest and violations of the Constitution and federal law posed by Donald Trump and his family’s business interests.

The organization also released a plan laying out how it intends to challenge other Trump policies and protect the Constitution.

The efforts are made possible by the organization’s new Constitution Defense Fund, which was established following the election.

The first legal action, filed yesterday, is a Freedom of Information Act request asking several government agencies to turn over all documents relating to President Trump’s actual or potential conflicts of interest to his business and family connections.

The request seeks legal opinions, memoranda, advisories, and communications from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Government Ethics, the General Services Administration, and the office of Personnel Management from Nov. 9, 2016, to Jan. 20, 2017. The request includes email and all other communication to and from the presidential transition team.

“We are bringing this first legal action using the Freedom of Information Act to underscore the fact that President Trump is not above the law. Trump took the oath, but he didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure that he and his family’s business interests comply with the Constitution and other federal statutes,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “Freedom of information requests are our democracy’s X-ray, and they will be vitally important to expose and curb the abuses of a president who believes the rules don’t apply to him and his family. We also know that more legal action will be needed when the new administration attempts to enact some of their unconstitutional proposals. The ACLU’s charge, laid out in our Seven-Point Plan, is to stand ready to confront any unconstitutional elements of the administration’s agenda — today on day one and for the next four years.”

The ACLU’s plan details potential legal challenges to the Trump administration’s enacting of unconstitutional policies, including:

• Demanding government accountability and transparency
• Protecting the rights of immigrants
• Defending reproductive rights
• Securing the First Amendment
• Advancing LGBT rights
• Defend core civil rights and civil liberties from erosion
• Mobilizing Americans to defend our Constitution

Over the next four years, the ACLU will implement its plan by adding up to 100 full-time employees across the country, paid for by its Constitution Defense Fund, which has attracted nearly 400,000 donations since Election Day.

The FOIA request https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/trump_conflicts_foia_request.pdf

Trump conflict plan woefully inadequate 

President-elect Donald Trump’s planned arrangement with the Trump Organization falls far short of what’s necessary to avoid conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violations that will dog his administration and severely undermine the public’s faith in government.

Common Cause has called on President-elect Trump to divest from the Trump Organization and put his wealth into a blind trust managed independently from him.

Instead, he’s decided to retain full ownership of the Trump Organization and have two of his sons run it—no divestment and no independence.

These are the same two sons who recently had their name attached to an inauguration fundraiser that promised access to their father for those willing to pay $1 million dollars. The event was cancelled but the precedent was troubling.

The American public must now demand complete transparency of the Trump Organization and President-elect Trump’s finances.

Such transparency is America’s only hope for protecting itself against conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violations — and holding President-elect Trump accountable for his promises to avoid conflicts and violations of the constitution.

The president-elect must take additional steps immediately to safeguard the integrity of the office of the president.

To begin with, Trump must release his taxes and quit hiding the facts and the potential conflicts from the American people.

At today’s press conference, when asked to release his tax returns, the president-elect rejected the request and claimed that the “only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters.”

Common Cause’s more than 700,000 members and supporters care about the president-elect’s tax returns and additional financial disclosure.

We demand it.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Extensive stock trading by Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services raises questions

Public Citizen says the Office of Congressional Ethics and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should look more closely at the stock trading activity of U.S. Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Chris Collins of New York for conflicts of interest and possible insider trading.

Price is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Extensive stock trading activity in industries that Price and Collins oversee as congressmen, and unusually good timing and financial benefits of those stock trades, raise red flags about the potential use of insider information,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The public information available falls short of hard evidence of insider trading, but the patterns of trading activity certainly warrant further investigation to determine if it occurred.”

Since 2009, according to congressional financial disclosure reports, Price has conducted over 630 trades on the stock market, many of which involve the pharmaceutical and health care sectors that he oversees as chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee and as a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.

Price’s colleague Collins also is a prolific trader of health care investments on the stock market, according to news and disclosure reports.

Collins, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, is a board member and the largest shareholder of a major biotech company, Australia’s Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited — a company in which both Price and Collins made major stock purchases within days of each other, according to financial disclosure reports.

“Collins purchased 4 million shares in August in the company whose board he sits on , and Price followed up with his own major stock purchase in the company two days later,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The stock value doubled in the three months following their investments. That’s quite good luck. This is worthy of investigation to determine whether any wrongful conduct occurred.”

Since passage of the STOCK Act in 2012, members of Congress have been subject to the same laws against insider trading that apply to everyone else. Additionally, congressional ethics rules warn members to avoid substantial conflicts of interest that may cast aspersions on the integrity of their office. Rules also mandate that members may not use their office for personal gain.

Public Citizen’s letter asks that the OCE and SEC investigate the stock trading activity of Price and Collins for potential violations of insider trading laws and conflict of interest rules and regulations.

On the Web

Read Public Citizen’s letter.

House Republicans change course on gutting ethics board

House Republicans, under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, Democrats and good-government watchdogs, reversed course on a plan to gut an independent ethics board, according to a report from The AP.

The reversal came as representatives came together for the first day of the 115th Congress.

House Republicans had come under attack from Democrats, watchdog groups and also Trump over a secretive move to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under their control.

One vocal critic was U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who said the “effort to take all investigative and oversight authority away from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics was a shameful first action for the new Congress.”

In an emergency meeting, faced with criticism, House Republicans voted to undo the change.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” was the statement on Trump’s Twitter account.

Congress should be focused on tax reform and health care, the statement said, and there was a reference to draining the swamp.

“We were elected on a promise to drain the swamp and starting the session by relaxing ethics rules is a very bad start,” GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, according to the AP.

Republican  Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: “People didn’t want this story on opening day.”

The ethics office was created in 2008 after several bribery and corruption cases in the House.

Regarding Republicans’ amendment dealing with the ethics office, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had issued this statement defending the move: “After eight years of operation, many members believe the Office of Congressional Ethics is in need of reform to protect due process and ensure it is operating according to its stated mission. I want to make clear that this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the Office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress. The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority. The Office is still expected to take in complaints of wrongdoing from the public. It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee. With the amendment adopted last night, the bipartisan, evenly-divided House Ethics Committee will now have oversight of the complaints office. But the Office is not controlled by the Committee, and I expect that oversight authority to be exercised solely to ensure the Office is properly following its rules and laws, just as any government entity should. I have made clear to the new Chair of the House Ethics Committee that it is not to interfere with the Office’s investigations or prevent it from doing its job. All members of Congress are required to earn the public’s trust every single day, and this House will hold members accountable to the people.”

Kind stated, “I am glad my colleagues realized this mistake and decided not to pursue the change. At a time when the people of Wisconsin have lost trust in Washington further weakening transparency and accountability for members of Congress is not the way to rebuild that trust. I will continue to stand up for Wisconsinites by fighting against any future attempts to limit the transparency and accountability of government.”

WashU stops intubation training using cats, ending practice in US

Washington University in St. Louis said that it has stopped using sedated cats to train medical students how to insert breathing tubes down babies’ throats, effectively ending the practice in the U.S.

The university’s School of Medicine said in a statement that after a “significant investment” in its simulation center, it will now provide neonatal intubation training using only mannequins and advanced simulators, effective immediately.

The school said improvements in simulators made the change possible. Cats currently at the university are being adopted by employees of the medical center.

“In the 25-plus years the university has relied on cats in teaching this procedure, none was harmed during training,” the statement read.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical ethics nonprofit, applauded the decision, saying the practice was cruel to animals and unnecessary for students. The group said it was the last of the 198 U.S. pediatrics programs still using cats.

“The best way to teach emergency airway intervention is on human-relevant training methods. I commend Washington University for switching to modern methods,” said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee.

Washington University’s use of cats has drawn criticism in recent years, with critics contending that the animals suffer pain and injuries ranging from cracked teeth to punctured lungs. Protests broke out in 2013 after an undercover video of the university’s training in pediatric advanced life support was released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The video shows a trainee putting tubes down the throat of a sedated cat, sometimes struggling to get it right. However, the medical school continued using sedated cats in other training programs prior to Monday’ announcement.

But university officials have said the lab consistently met federal Animal Welfare Act standards, including passing an inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture soon after the PETA video.

Other teaching labs have used simulators for years, but Washington University previously cited research indicating that pediatric doctors in training only succeed in 20 percent to 35 percent of their initial attempts to intubate infants, justifying the need for animals in training.

The program previously used ferrets, too, but university spokeswoman Judy Martin said ferrets have not been used for many years.

Anti-gay Justice Roy Moore suspended for remainder of term in Alabama

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended anti-LGBT Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term due to his unethical actions against marriage equality.

The nine-member Court of the Judiciary found Moore unanimously guilty of all six charges brought against him.

Moore will remain on the bench, but will not receive a salary and he will be unable to make any legal decisions.

His term is up in 2018. At that point, he will not be able to run for the justice again in Alabama because he will be past the office’s age restriction.

“Roy Moore has flagrantly and willfully attempted to block marriage equality at every turn in Alabama, using his position of power to push a personal, radically anti-LGBTQ agenda,” said Eva Kendrick, state manager for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “We are thrilled that justice has been done today and he will no longer be able to use the bench to discriminate against people he had taken an oath to protect.

Kendrick continued, “Roy Moore’s bigoted rhetoric and unethical actions harmed LGBTQ Alabamians and emboldened those who would seek to hurt us further. We hope this is a turning point for our state. We must focus on electing politicians and judges who will move us forward, not backward.”

HRC Alabama initiated the #NoMoore campaign to remove Moore from the Alabama Supreme Court for “his blatant legal and ethical failings.”

HRC Alabama also called out Moore’s discriminatory behavior with a billboard in downtown Montgomery, and held rallies and press conferences outside each of Moore’s ethics hearings — including the final hearing on Sept. 28.

Last year, HRC and other civil rights organizations joined the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ethics complaint filed with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama and seeking Moore’s removal for violating the obligations of his office.

The complaint described how Moore urged Gov. Robert Bentley and members of the Alabama  Probate Judges Association to ignore federal court rulings striking down the state’s ban on marriage equality.

The court has now ruled that Moore violated the canons of judicial ethics by ordering the probate judges to defy the federal court injunction requiring them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on a non-discriminatory basis.

This is the second time in 13 years that Moore has been sanctioned as a result of ethics complaints filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

SPLC president Richard Cohen, in a news release, said, “The Court of the Judiciary has done the citizens of Alabama a great service by suspending Roy Moore from the bench.  He disgraced his office and undermined the integrity of the judiciary by putting his personal religious beliefs above his sworn duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

“Moore was elected to be a judge, not a preacher. It’s something that he never seemed to understand. The people of Alabama who cherish the rule of law are not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama.”

Audit cites issues with Wisconsin elections board

An audit critical of the board that oversees ethics and elections in Wisconsin fueled calls from Republicans to dismantle it, while Democrats said no such dramatic changes were needed.

The Government Accountability Board, unlike the widely panned Ethics and Elections boards that preceded it, is made up of nonpartisan former judges. It handles both ethics and elections issues and has drawn the ire of both Democrats and Republicans over the years on a variety of issues.

Recent criticism focused on the board’s decision to approve an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Gov. Scott Walker’s recall committee in 2012 and more than two dozen conservative groups.

While the long-anticipated report pointed out a variety of problems, auditors did not recommend that the 6-year-old board be overhauled or dismantled. In fact, auditors suggested ways the Legislature could increase its authority over elections and improve its operations.

Still, that didn’t stop Republicans who have been beating the drum to do away with the board to use the audit as further evidence to back up their position.

“The audit is another illustration of why we must change the GAB,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. Vos has said he wants to oust the board’s director, Kevin Kennedy, and possibly replace the board or lessen the influence of staff. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said last month he was looking into returning to a partisan model.

“We have long known that the GAB has exhibited some troubling inconsistencies in its oversight of election law and ethics requirements in Wisconsin in recent years,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “This audit affirms those concerns.”

Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the audit shows that the board is “ripe for reform” and the governor will be working with the Legislature on it.

Democrats, and Kennedy, rushed to the board’s defense.

“This audit should not be used as a reason to dismantle this agency for partisan purposes,” Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement.

Kennedy said that while the audit raised concerns, it did not target any of the core duties or performance of the board and its staff.

“By every objective measure that has been published since the board’s inception, Wisconsin is a national leader in clean, fair and open elections, ethics, campaign finances and lobbying,” he said in a statement.

The audit said that board staff did not consistently follow a penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and code of ethics laws; did not conduct 16 reviews required by law over a four-year period to identify felons who may have voted illegally; and did not put in place written procedures for considering complaints.

Auditor Joe Chrisman noted that the audit was limited, however, because the attorney general determined in July that state law did not allow the board to turn over any of its investigatory records.

The audit recommends that the board improve how voter registration records are maintained, improve oversight of campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws, and improve their procedures for considering complaints.

In his written response to the audit, Kennedy said it is impossible to fulfill the GAB’s duties without more staff. He also said the board is in compliance with all but a handful of its 154 separate responsibilities required under the law.

About the audit…

WHAT DID THE AUDIT INVESTIGATE?

The Audit Bureau report looked into the responsibilities of the Government Accountability Board related to elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. The audit was limited because the board did not give access to its investigatory records after the attorney general said in July that state law did not allow for those to be turned over.

WHAT DID IT FIND?

The audit said that board staff did not consistently follow a penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and code of ethics laws; did not conduct 16 reviews required by law over a four-year period to identify felons who may have voted illegally; did not put in place written procedures for considering complaints; and the staff did not provide the board with complete information on enforcement efforts.

WHAT ARE THE RECOMMENDATIONS?

The audit said the board should improve how voter registration records are maintained; improve oversight of campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws; and improve its procedures for considering complaints. The audit also recommended that the Legislature change the law to allow for access to the board’s investigatory records; require the board to determine whether any votes were cast in the names of people who died before the election; and give the board the power to do election-related work currently done by local clerks.

WHAT IS THE BOARD’S REACTION?

Board director Kevin Kennedy emphasized that the audit found no problems with GAB’s financial accounting or spending, and called for no significant changes to its core duties and performance. Both he and the audit noted that the board has been under a heavy workload in recent years given its role helping to administer recall elections in 2011 and 2012, the 2011 statewide recount in the Supreme Court race, implementing redistricting legislation and working on photo identification issues.

WHAT ARE LAWMAKERS SAYING?

Republican critics of the GAB increased their call for changes in light of the audit. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the board has “no accountability whatsoever” and must change. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the audit affirms concerns about the board’s operations. Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, called it a “rogue agency” and said that a complete overhaul is necessary. Incoming Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said there’s always room for improvement at the GAB, but the Legislature should be focused on creating jobs and economic development. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Legislature’s Audit Committee will hold a hearing on the report, but no date is set. The board is scheduled to discuss the audit at its meeting on Tuesday. Proposals to overhaul the board, or do away with it, are being discussed in both the Senate and Assembly and are likely to be introduced early next year.

Panel: Wisconsin congressman likely broke House rules

A congressional review panel said there is “substantial reason to believe” that veteran U.S. Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin violated House rules by acting on behalf of two companies in which he owned significant amounts of stock, according to a report released on Sept. 30.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics said Petri advocated for Oshkosh Corp. and the Manitowoc Co. despite owning at least $250,000 worth of Oshkosh stock and at least $100,000 worth of stock in Manitowoc. Both companies are based in Wisconsin.

Petri, a Republican who is retiring after 18 terms in the House, denied wrongdoing and said he routinely sought and took advice from the House Ethics Committee regarding his stock ownership. The committee approved his actions on each of those occasions, Petri said.

“Apparently, seeking advice, getting advice and following advice from the Ethics Committee is not good enough,” Petri said in a statement.

Petri said the Office of Congressional Ethics seems intent on “imposing arbitrary new standards and rules” on actions he took years ago. “All members of the House are at risk by the creation and application of standards and rules that have no basis in law,” he said.

The OCE is an outside organization that can refer cases to the Ethics Committee. The ethics committee said Tuesday it is continuing its investigation of Petri.

In its report, the OCE faulted Petri for pressing colleagues to help the Oshkosh Co. retain a $3 billion Pentagon contract to make tactical vehicles for the military. Separately, Petri worked with Manitowoc as it applied for an environmental exemption from the Obama administration regarding diesel engines used in cranes built by the company.

The Oshkosh case dates to 2009, when Petri and other members of the Wisconsin delegation pushed the Pentagon to move forward on a $3 billion contract awarded to Oshkosh to make tactical vehicles. The Government Accountability Office had upheld a protest by a losing bidder, and lawmakers in Texas were urging the Pentagon to support that company.

Petri said his actions on behalf of Oshkosh were not related to his stock ownership, but were an effort to help a major employer in his district. His office consulted with ethics committee staff before acting, Petri said.

But the review panel said in its report that on at least one occasion, advice from the ethics committee “appears to have been based on incomplete or inaccurate information.”

Petri did not consult the ethics committee before calling the Secretary of the Army in December 2009, the report said, nor did he disclose his stock ownership to the Army secretary.

Army Secretary John McHugh told the panel he considered Petri’s call routine and said knowing about Petri’s stock ownership would not have affected his decision. Oshkosh retained the contract in 2010 after the Army reevaluated the proposals.

The review panel also said Petri did not consult the ethics committee before helping Manitowoc in its dealings with the Environmental Protection Agency. The company received an exemption from the EPA in 2012, an outcome that a Manitowoc executive said could not have happened without Petri’s support, the report said.

The ethics committee’s jurisdiction over Petri ends when he leaves office in early January.

Birdcall playback on phones prompts ethics debate

Wildlife watchers can now wield unnatural powers, playing actual birdcalls on smart phones and other mobile devices. The practice, called playback, is effective for attracting elusive species but also can harm nesting birds if overused.

“It’s kind of a balancing act,” said Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“If you’re bringing a common bird into view for a group of kids or showing people how habitat is really good for birds, then a case can be made that it’s a good tool for making birds visible. Caution is most warranted when you have a rare species or a species when a lot of people want to see it at the same location.”

The prevalence of these small, inexpensive tools is increasing at a rate that concerns many recreational birders, said Michael Webster, a professor and director of Cornell University’s Macaulay Library archive, the repository for more than 200,000 bird call recordings — 150,000 of which people can use online.

“The main negative? It can stress the birds, especially if overdone,” Webster said. “On the positive side? These are devices for people to get out there and experience nature. It’s educational engagement.”

People should, however, adhere to a wildlife-watching code of ethics, he said.

The American Birding Association’s Principles of Birding Ethics includes: “Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area.”

That language soon may be updated, Gordon said.

“I don’t know if that will make it more restrictive, though, just more thorough — spelling out a little better that not one size fits all. There are so many birds in so many situations that common sense and courtesy will be a better fit.”

Here, then, are some common-sense suggestions for minimizing playback disturbance to birds and other birders, from noted field guide author David Sibley’s website:

• Have a plan. Choose your spot and know your quarry, don’t just play sounds.

• Play snippets of sound — less than 30 seconds at a time — with a long pause before the next snippet. After five minutes or so, give it a rest.

• Be subtle. You are trying to coax a bird into the open, not stir up a fight (among competing males during mating season).

• No surprises. Announce your intention to play a recording and hold the device above your shoulder so other birders can see the source of the sound. 

“Any potential negative impacts of playback are more likely to occur in areas with a lot of birding pressure, so avoiding playback in those places is a good idea,” Sibley writes. “Where and how to use it in other situations is up to the individual birder.”

On the Web …

American Birding Association: http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html

David Sibley: http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/04/the-proper-use-of-playback-in-birding/

Activists howl for justice for the gray wolf

“Heh, heh, heh.” The two men on the HowToHunt video on YouTube sound like Beavis and Butthead when they come across the dead wolf hanging from a log after being caught in a snare they’d placed the day before.

“Happy days,” said one of the men as he hoisted up the animal and grinned for the camera. The wolf was bloody and stiff with rigor mortis, but the fur looked soft.

“Heh, heh, heh,” his friend chortled.

The trappers called the wolf’s death a “suicide.” They had strategically placed the snare on a log stretched over a hole so the wolf would fall after getting caught in the noose.

Death by hanging.

“Once an animal gets its head/body into the wire loop, with every movement the animal makes, the noose tightens around the animal’s neck/body,” said Elizabeth Huntley, a wolf advocate who serves as a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Wolf Front. “You can imagine where this leads to. This is a horrible and agonizing way for an animal to die, and it usually does not happen quickly.”

In Wisconsin, the state-prescribed method of killing a trapped wolf is by firearm — aimed at the head, with a bullet to the brain, or the chest, with a bullet to penetrate the heart or lungs.

Wisconsinites hunted, trapped and killed 257 wolves during the 2013 season that went from Oct. 15 to Dec. 23, and at least 117 during the 2012 season, when the state lost an additional 76 wolves in depredation control, 24 in vehicle collisions, 21 in illegal kills and five from unknown causes.

Some would say that Wisconsin in 2012 legalized the sport of hunting wolves; others say the state sanctioned slaughter.

Regardless of the terminology, after decades of working to bring the wolf population back from near extinction, advocates are facing a new situation: The clearly stated goal of the Republican-led Legislature and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with endorsements from 18 county boards, is to dramatically reduce the wolf population — to about 350 wolves in time.

To protect or to kill

In the winter of 1979, there were just 25 wolves counted in Wisconsin. Species protection efforts increased that population at a rate of 20 percent in the 1990s and 10–12 percent in the 2000s. Then, to the surprise of many, came a federal delisting for the Great Lakes’ wolves and a rush by politicians in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan to allow hunting the animals beyond the practice of protecting livestock and private property.

“In Wisconsin, wolves were on a trajectory for recovery and protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “And then, the state decided to drastically reduce the population. Of the three states — Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan — Wisconsin has the most regressive policies toward wolves. The management plan calls for reducing the population by more than half. It just doesn’t make sense.”

In 2013, for the fourth time since 1985, there was no increase detected in the wolf population from the previous year, according to a DNR news release.

When the 2013 hunting season began, the DNR said there were 809 to 834 wolves in the state, including 215 packs and 15 lone wolves. This was a “late-winter count,” and the DNR said the population presumably would double in the spring, after pups were born, and then decline through the year.

The quota of kills the DNR allowed this past season “could reduce the population by approximately 13 percent, taking all mortality factors into account,” stated DNR carnivore specialist Dave MacFarland, adding that the agency tries “to balance many of the social interests in wolves with the need, and the department’s responsibility, to manage the state’s wolf population.” 

But Greenwald said, “Hunting is a poor management tool for a species like the wolf,” because the species manages itself and is essential for healthy ecosystems. “The removal of top predators is a global problem and it has surprising consequences for ecosystems,” he said. “In the Midwest, for example, there have been widespread declines in ground-nesting birds of all kinds. The removal of top-level predators (such as wolves) has allowed mid-level predators to increase their numbers and their species prey on ground-nesting birds.”

In Wisconsin, a license to “remove” or “harvest” a wolf costs about $50. There’s also the cost of the blaze-orange vest, the bait, the trap, the firearm — which can be a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol or a muzzleloader — and the truck detailing after the kill.

For those new to the so-called “sport,” the DNR offers a course in best management practices for trapping, trapper ethics and responsibilities, trap-setting demonstrations, trapping rules and “respect for people and the animal.”

Yet opponents of wolf hunting ask: How one can respectfully slaughter a wild animal? Consider how a leg-hold or foot-hold trap works: The trap is placed. It catches the animal — sometimes the wild animal, sometimes the domestic stray — by snapping down hard on the bone. Wisconsin trappers are supposed to check traps every 24 hours — by then, the animal most likely has tried to struggle to get free, attempting to chew the caught limb. An animal in a trap that goes unchecked may die of dehydration, starvation or become easy prey.

“The stress a trapped animal endures is nothing short of terrifying,” said Huntley, who described the wolf advocacy movement as “a gathering storm.”

She became involved soon after the delisting of wolves in Wisconsin. “Within a week or two of wolves being delisted from the Endangered Species list in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker signed legislation mandating the hunting of wolves in the state — and part of this legislation includes the use of dogs in wolf hunts,” Huntley said.

Aggressive campaign 

Activists seeking to protect wolves and halt the hunts come from varied backgrounds and interests — animal welfare advocates, environmentalists and good government advocates. They’re conducting a broad, aggressive campaign that involves:

• Circulating petitions to build public awareness.

• Challenging policy at government hearings.

• Delving into state data and records to analyze the science and status of endangered species.

• Protesting a proposal allowing hunters to pursue prey on private property.

• Monitoring grisly Internet posts by hunters and trappers, including accounts of wolves being tortured and dogs dying in training exercises.

• Filing freedom of information requests and trying to analyze correspondence dealing with the wolf advisory.

• Following the money from outdoors groups, gun organizations and individuals to politicians.

• Mapping the ties of right-wing extremists with wolf-hunting. (Examples are on the “Wisconsin Wolf Hunters” Facebook page.)

• Organizing campaigns against anti-wolf politicians, including state Sen. Neal Kedzie, who has locked up in committee a bill to stop using dogs in wolf hunting. Wisconsin is the only state that permits the practice.

“Word is getting out about what’s happening to not only the wolves of this state, but to many other species of wildlife being trophy-hunted, trapped and penned for the purposes of hound-hunting,” Huntley said. “This state is becoming deplorable concerning the preservation of its wildlife and wild lands.”

One activist Huntley works with is Adam Kassulke, also of Wisconsin Wolf Front. As WiG went to press, Kassulke was asking the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to support a moratorium on wolf-hunting until more scientific research could be conducted on the issue.

He said this month also would bring a citizen lobbying effort in the Capitol and the announcement of a new Great Lakes Wolves Coalition, part of a push to unite the somewhat fractured wolf advocacy community.

Wisconsin Wolf Front formed last May, with a focus on political action and educating young people. About 82 percent of the members are students.

With the launch of the coalition, Kassulke wants wolf advocates to hire a lobbyist and to play a role in defeating anti-wolf legislators on Election Day.

Politics over science

In addition to the three Great Lakes states, wolf hunts have taken place in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, where the governor recently signed a bill, despite opposition from conservation groups, to create a $400,000 fund and establish a five-member board to oversee the killing of wolves.

At the same time, the Obama administration is considering “delisting” the wolf at the federal level in the lower 48 states. The Fish and Wildlife Services has proposed removing protections everywhere but Arizona and New Mexico, where just 83 Mexican wolves remain in the wild.

During the comment period that followed the proposal, a million people opposed the proposal — the highest number of submissions ever sent to FWS concerning an endangered species.

More recently, another 460,000 Americans filed comments opposing the “delisting,” and in February an independent scientific peer review unanimously concluded that a federal plan to drop protections for most gray wolves was not based on the best available science.

“Policy decisions about wolves and other wildlife should be based on the best science, not politics,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.

She said there were once up to 2 million gray wolves in North America, but they were slaughtered to near-extinction by the early 1900s. Recovery programs helped wolf populations in some parts of the country rebound. Still, there only about 5,500 wolves in the continental United States and wolves occupy just 5 percent of their historic range in the lower 48.

If the federal delisting takes place, hunts like those taking place in the Great Lakes region and the Rocky Mountain states could take place elsewhere.

“After the federal government prematurely gave up its duty to protect wolves, the states of Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming all rushed to hold hunting and trapping seasons,” said Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States. “Thousands of wolves have been barbarically killed over bait, with hounds and cable neck snares. The (FWS) proposal puts politics over its (conservation) obligations “

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series on wolves and the dispute over endangered species protections for the animals.

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