These days, many in Congress talk a lot about states’ rights, local solutions and a smaller federal government — until it comes to a view with which they disagree. Case in point is the District’s wildlife protection law, which was adopted last year by the D.C. Council but is in danger of being defunded when the D.C. appropriations bill comes up in the U.S. House of Representatives when Congress returns from recess.
The law was sponsored by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and strongly supported by the Washington Humane Society and the Humane Society of the United States. It protects wildlife and consumers in the District by bringing much-needed regulation to private wildlife control operators. In the past, some of these businesses have charged homeowners hundreds or even thousands of dollars for “solutions” to urban wildlife problems, using inhumane methods of killing animals while failing to address the long-term problems, such as openings in an attic or garage, that made their services necessary in the first place.
The D.C. legislation requires wildlife control operators working in the city to be trained and licensed, to pass a test, to disclose certain information to consumers and to report on their activities annually to the D.C. Department of the Environment. The measure prohibits killing animals using methods not approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association and puts a stop to practices such as drowning animals and injecting them with nail polish remover. It also prohibits the use of bird poisons and a small number of indiscriminate and cruel devices, such as leghold traps, body-crushing traps, and neck snares, which can kill pets and wildlife not being targeted. The District is, after all, a city.
But this common-sense law has stirred opposition among some in the trapping industry and its supporters, who are pushing Congress to block its enforcement. The critics suggest that the law will result in the large-scale release of wildlife outside the District. Whether it’s from a genuine misunderstanding of the law or a deliberate misrepresentation of its provisions, there is talk about no longer being able to kill wildlife, not having enough areas to release animals in the District and scores of D.C. critters being trucked into neighboring states. There are also warnings that the law will send white-footed mice and the ticks that carry Lyme disease into Virginia.
None of that is accurate. The law does nothing to change where animals can be released; it has always been illegal to release animals on federal lands and to transport wildlife across state lines.
The D.C. law suggests relocating or releasing animals when possible, but it does not mandate those actions and does not prohibit lethal control. If there is no place or practical way to release the animal in the District, the animal would probably be killed, but the most inhumane and abusive methods would be disallowed and the animal’s suffering would be reduced. The D.C. law will, in fact, help prevent illegal transports, since trappers will now be licensed and no longer able to operate in the shadows.
The D.C. law provides modest parameters for regulating an industry that has a checkered history of overcharging consumers and using painful and indiscriminate killing methods. It establishes licensing and reporting requirements similar to those in 35 other states, including Maryland and Virginia.
But it’s also a question of home rule, and whether a local law that was carefully vetted, drafted and re-drafted until it was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council should be arbitrarily dismantled by Congress. Imagine if Congress took it upon itself to undo Virginia’s state wildlife regulations or hunting and trapping laws. Or Wyoming or Montana’s, for that matter.
If more clarity is needed, the D.C. Department of the Environment can handle that when the agency issues implementing regulations. But the law moves the District forward, and we shouldn’t roll back these important protections for wildlife and consumers.
Local residents and lawmakers have spoken, and Congress should respect their will.
The writer is chief operating officer of the Humane Society of the United States.