Monday, January 10, 2011

Feral Horses, The Environment, Taxes, and the Poor

Feral Horses, The Environment, Taxes, and the Poor.

Feral horses (aka Mustangs) are unbranded, wild, and non-indigenous horses that live in Western states (for a listing click States). They are the decedents of the horses brought to the New World by the Spanish and other Europeans. Feral horses have recently hit the news (particularly CNN) because of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) activity to remove excess horses from the open range.

Feral horses have significant impacts on the fragile dry-lands of the West. Their hoofs compact the soil making it more difficult for plants to grow and their foraging removes plant resources from other native species and for cattle that also graze the land.

Of course, the animal rights protest industry groups allege the cruelty of such round-ups, saying the round ups stress the horses and cause some of them to die. The BLM, according to CNN reports, says that less than 1% of the horses rounded up die in the process. Of course, the facts don't matter. To animal rights protest industry activists (ARPIA), every horse is sacred.

Feral Horses and the Environment

Here are some fact that should trouble readers who care about the environment (for details on the environmental impacts of feral horses click Wildlife Society), the poor, and the out of control Federal budget.  First, ever since the passage of THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971(PUBLIC LAW 92-195),  the hunting of horses has been banned. Therefore, what used to be a way for individuals to harvest and utilize horse resources, has now become a financial liability. Feral horse numbers have exploded and adoptions are not keeping pace with reproduction. Of course, the ARPIAs want to require feral horse birth control to management the reproductive rate, a tool that is very expensive. No surprise ARPIAs don't care because they aren't spending their money to handle this problem, they want to take your money as tax payers to pay for it.

Feral Horses and the Poor

How much money does the ARPIAs "compassion" cost you the tax payer? According to the BLM GAO report, "Total program costs were $36.7 million in 2004 and $66.1 million in 2010 (p. 7)." The costs are actually higher in that the horses could have brought revenue to these rural areas if hunting and harvesting was allowed. My point is simply this. Spending 66.1 million dollars on horses when money could be spent on unemployment, employment re-training or even paying down the deficit is immoral.

I strongly recommend that Congress consider overturning this act as a simple and no-brainer way to reduce Federal expenditures. Certainly Congressional leaders should prepare themselves for the emotional tirades of the ARPIAs. But the truth is offensive. You can't legislate to satisfy the extremist anti-environmentalists fringe.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a lecturer of theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School who specializes in environmental ethics. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement

The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement

I am very pleased to announce that the venerable Wildlife Society has drafted a policy statement against the philosophy known as animal rights.

You can view the statement at The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement. 

It is encouraging to see that the Society has recognized the threat animal rights protest industry activists pose to our natural resources.

Stephen M.Vantassel is a longtime opponent of the animal rights protest industry and has published and spoken out against this anti-environmental movement.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review of Paul Waldau's The Specter of Speciesism

The Specter of Speciesism is a revision of Waldau's dissertation submitted for his PhD at Oxford in 1997. As the title suggests, the book delves into the way Buddhism and Christianity view animals as revealed in the language of their religious documents. In particular, Waldau evaluates whether and to what extent these two religions participate in the alleged moral error know as speciesism. Speciesism, is the belief that human interests automatically trump the interests of "other" animals. Like racism, which is the belief that one race is automatically superior to another, speciesism is seen as improper because the grounds for the moral claim are not grounded in morally relevant concerns. Just as you wouldn't say that a red colored crowbar was "better" than a "green" colored crowbar if both performed their leveraging tasks equally, so it is said that humans do not have the moral right to proffer their interests as being more morally significant than those of animals without support from morally significant grounds.

Waldau goes to great length detailing how the arguments used to support human exceptionalism and speciesist attitudes towards animals fail in the quality and accuracy of their generalizations. For instance, when humans claim their intelligence and rationality give them the right to treat animals differently, Waldau explains that animals such as dolphins and whales also exhibit incredible intelligence. Other arguments such as social organization, language, and others are all show to be problematic.

Waldau is very careful with his language. He does not say that humans and animals (what he calls other animals) do not have significant differences. What he questions is whether and to what extent those differences justify different moral treatment simply because of a creature's membership in a particular species. I would highly recommend his discussion of the various nuances of speciesism to those interested in this concept.

The remainder of the book focuses on the views that Buddhism and Christianity have towards animals. Given the various factions contained in these religions, Waldau has a difficult task. He resolves the problem by analyzing their respective religious texts, arguing the Heideggarian view that language reflects worldview. Each religion is carefully analyzed with abundant references to primary texts. In the end, Waldau shows that both religions exhibit speciesist views, although the Buddhism's is seen as more animal friendly.


Waldau has performed a useful service for those interested in the subject of human-animal relations, particularly for those involved in Buddhist and Christian studies. As one who tired of hearing how caring Buddhism was toward other creatures, I was intrigued to learn that Buddhism is speciesist too.
I am grateful that Waldau demonstrated that Christianity was speciesist. I have long argued that the Christianity of Jesus teaches that humans are more significant than animals. I would go further and suggest that humans are not "animals" because only humans are created in the image of God (Gen 1). Waldau proves that when people read the Bible as written, they will come to conclusions similar to Evangelical Christians. To be clear, Waldau disagrees with the Biblical view. That is a different question. But on the issue of what Scripture teaches, I concur with Waldau's view as shown in my own book, Dominion over Wildlife? A Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). What is regrettable is that Waldau demonstrated his own bias in his uncritical acceptance of scientism's view that humans are just one of the animals. Scripture clearly makes a different claim. Perhaps science will never be able to provide a "thing" which humans have and animals don't capable of justifying human use of animals. But that failure doesn't prove there isn't such a thing. It could simply be that the theory tells you what you can see. Since science doesn't accept the existence of spiritual entities, should one be surprised that scientist never find them? My point is that science is just as much a matter of "faith" as belief in religion.

In sum, Waldau's work is a worthy read. While I certainly disagree with his views regarding human-animal relations, he is careful with his claims and provides a mountain of material with which to interact. He academic tone encourages dialogue and reflection and all honest and open readers will benefit from engaging his thought.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, England. He specializes in environmental-ethics. Dominion over Wildlife?: An Environmental Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Horse Slaughter Protection Act

Animal rights protest industry advocates (ARPIA) regularly submit bills to governing bodies in the hopes of enacting legislation designed to end what they consider to be immoral activities regarding human use of animals. The slaughter of horses for human consumption is purportedly one of these activities that violates the cultural morals of America if not humanity (according to Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the U.S. as quoted by

It is critical to recognize that the topic of horse slaughter is not about the humane killing of horses. Advocates of keeping horse slaughter legal are not defending methods of horse killing that cause horses undue pain and suffering. They simply want horse owners to keep their right to slaughter horses and sell their meat for food. ARPIAs, on the other hand, think that it is wrong to kill animals for any reason, except to protect human life that is in immediate danger (and for some ARPIAs that may be debatable). Since ARPIAs know that such an idea appears stupid to most people (at this time), they must pick their legislative battles carefully. They know that humans think some animals are more “valuable” than others, so ARPIAs lobby to “protect” animals that are cute and have had long histories with humans. Note, they wisely don’t start protesting the killing of rats and mice because they are still despised by humans.

Christians, however, must follow a higher standard, namely God’s principles. First, Christ declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19) so there is no moral problem (as far as God is concerned) to eat a horse. If you think there is a problem with that, then you should take up your problem with Jesus or perhaps evaluate the integrity of your Christianity. Remember, what we eat is determined by culture. So if you think that eating a horse is wrong (in the moral sense), then you might just be suffering from bigotry. Christ wants us to avoid cultural bigotry when it comes to diet.

Second, Christ says that theft is wrong. When we enact legislation that unduly restricts the rights of property owners to use their property then I contend we are participating in a form of theft. If you doubt the financial and social impact of enacting bans on horse slaughter than I suggest you read the excellent report “The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States available at The authors carefully explain the financial impact of such a law. If preventing other people from utilizing their resources is not sufficient to incur your moral wrath, then read their comments on how enacting the ban will lead to increased equine suffering.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School who specializes in environmental ethics and human-wildlife relations.  His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (2009).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The National Wildlife Control Training Program

For those of you not familiar with this project, let me provide a little background. Regrettably, most states lack even rudimentary training requirements for the licensing of wildlife control operators (WCO). Part of the reason for this situation is the dearth of training materials and the fact that state wildlife agencies, already underfunded and overworked, don't have the resources to create a program let alone administer it. Our program seeks to correct that. We have created a training program designed to provide beginning WCOs the fundamentals of the trade.

We will provide this training in multiple ways, including print (book forthcoming in January, 2011), online (January 2011) and in person if states desire that. This training will also be open to businesses wishing to train new workers.

The training consists of two main parts. First is the core modules. Core modules are what we believe every WCO should know regardless of where they live. It's written in a manner that makes it suitable for WCOs regardless of their respective state laws.

Part 2 consists of species modules. Each species module will address the biology, damage, and control methods related to that particular species. We anticipate that states or individuals can select which species they want to learn about. This allows individuals to learn about species that they are allowed to control.

The exam at the end will cover the modules that were selected.

In addition, states that wish to work with us, can edit the species modules so that only those techniques permitted in their state are discussed. Biology and range information can also be adjusted to reflect the specific facts in that respective state. These state specific training materials can then be printed and/or provided on-line. States won't have to bear the costs of hosting or modification of materials as the user can bear the full price. What is that price? We don't know at the moment because we are still preparing the document for publication. But we anticipate the on-line training (which will have additional training resources than what can be provided by the book) to be less than 200 dollars which will include the cost of the exam. Of course, advanced training modules will be provided in the future. If you are interested in providing advanced training, please contact me. We want to work with you.

Here is an outline of the National Wildlife Control Training Program

Part 1 WCO Core Training Modules

1. Principles of Wildlife Damage Management – Introduction to principles, definition of concepts, best practices concepts,.

2. Physical Safety - The section on physical safety (like ladder safety) and expand on details related to working in the field dealing with animal capture and certain control techniques.

3. Wildlife Diseases – We discuss personal safety, personal protection equipment, common diseases, and the meaning and problems of zoonotic diseases.

4. Site Inspection – The process and theory of on-site investigation of wildlife damage complaints.

5. Overview of wildlife control methods - The overview of control methods prepares technicians for the control techniques they fill find in the species specific information.

6. Animal Handling—Treatment and capture of free-ranging and trapped animals. .

7. Euthanasia & Carcass Disposal—Killing methods and options for the disposition of carcasses.

8. Business Practices – Overview of standard business practices. This is NOT a how to run you business.

9. Legal and Ethical Issues – The importance of following federal, state and local laws. Demonstration of values, business and personal ethics, the ethical treatment of wildlife (animals in general) in the media.

PART 2 Species Modules


We are excited about this new development. Stay tuned or even better, stop by and see us at NWCOA's convention in New Orleans Jan 13 and following.

Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator, CWCP, ACP
Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management
School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
414 Hardin Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0974 U.S.A.
phone: 402-472-8961
fax: 402-472-2946
web site:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing and Speaking Like a Professional by Philip A. Yaffe

To speak and write well are difficult tasks. Most of us can communicate, but we just muddle through with bloated lines and fuzzy logical connections. Philip A. Yaffe distills his years of writing and instructional experience into easy to grasp principles to help communicators improve their written and oratory skills.
The book is divided into two parts of essentially equal length. Part 1 explains Yaffe’s principles and techniques for improving writing and speaking. In part 2, readers are provided a variety of editing exercises coupled with explanatory-analysis to show how Yaffe’s writing principles are applied. 

As a college professor who struggled, and continues to struggle, with writing, I welcome books designed to assist communicators in improving their craft. Yaffe demonstrates his teaching experience by ensuring his recommendations are both understandable and portioned in short and understandable chunks. This approach reduces the chances of students feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of abstract concepts and data. I am pleased that the author avoided tedious discussions on grammar and punctuation. He was wise to focus on larger structural problems that confront writers. 

The book clearly draws upon journalistic principles such as the inverted pyramid and writing a strong lead. I think these techniques are quite useful and recommend that business and newsletter communicators consider adopting them. I am less sanguine regarding how well those principles will be received by college professors. Academics are a traditional and at times an arrogant lot. They teach students to organize papers by a. defining the problem, followed by an analysis of the evidence, and ended with a strong conclusion. I wonder how professors would respond to a paper written following the inverted pyramid recommendations given by Yaffe. Aside from the organizational issue, students should carefully follow Yaffe’s suggestions regarding clarity and conciseness. 

Readers will find the chapter on oral presentations just as succinct and principle driven as the one on writing. I strongly recommend the information on using PowerPoint slides. I would just add that speakers should NEVER have a slide with only text. PowerPoint slides are a visual medium. Images and iconography should be used to a. help you reduce the amount of text and b. to provide a visual symbol to reinforce the concepts of your text. 

In sum, Yaffe has collected some useful principles to help writers and speakers communicate briefly and clearly. Despite its business and journalism focus, it is still useful for students in academic settings. 

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations. (Wipf and Stock, 2009). 

Have a book you would like reviewed? Contact Stephen M. Vantassel at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Calvin Klein's "Obsession for Men" as a Feline Lure

In a recent edition of The Wildlife Professional (Fall, 2010 p.89), a report titled "Big Cats Fall for "Obsession"" sourced from The Wildlife Conservation Society explains how men's fragrance "Obsession for Men" has been found to be highly effective in luring large cats. It's use at the Bronx Zoo found that trees sprayed with the fragrance were highly attractive to cheetahs. Cheetahs spent over 11 minutes rubbing trees sprayed with the product and only 10 minutes for trees sprayed with Nina Ricci's "L'Air du Temps" and only 15 seconds for Revlon's "Charlie."

Researchers in Guatamala have also used "Obsession for Men" to lure wild cats (Jaguars) successfully, finding it is 3x more effective than other lures in bringing cats to photo traps. 

The article said "Obsession for Men" costs 60 dollars for 4 ounces which I have confirmed in a web search. You may find lower prices but look carefully at the ounces as the product is also sold in 2.5 ounce bottles.

My question is "Will it work on free-range house cats?" which everyone knows are an environmental menace.

Stephen M. Vantassel's research interests include wildlife damage management and environmental theology. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).