By Nicole Rivard
In January, a Friends of Animals board member alerted us that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved a new rule for year-round hunting of raccoons and limited year-round trapping to give Iowans more options to kill the so-called “nuisance” animals.
“What can we do to stop such a misguided hunt? This is so upsetting to me,” she said. “We have a beautiful raccoon family who visits us at our home in Darien, CT, every night. A mass slaughter of these wonderful creatures would be a sin.”
We found out that the rule would be open for public comment through Feb. 6. So we sprang into action and wrote an op-ed explaining how there is no moral justification nor are Iowans entitled to kill raccoons or any other wildlife just because they deem them a “nuisance.” The article got picked up by the Des Moines Register daily newspaper with a circulation of more than 33,000 readers. We also asked readers to email comments Iowa officials calling on them oppose the rule.
We did this because when it comes to saving wild, we never lose hope that we can mobilize a group of people who are passionate about wildlife and harness the power of their conviction to push for a different outcome. Op-eds are a great tool for education and awareness.
“Op-eds are often the top-read stories of the year by the public and legislators,” explained John Breunig, editorial page editor with Hearst Connecticut Media Group. “The latter definitely seek out op-eds for information about issues their constituents care about. You just need to reach the one right person for an op-ed to have a tremendous ripple effect.”
Fighting the good fight
These days, social media is also an obvious place to start for grassroots activists, but movements can still begin the old-fashioned way with in-person meetings and phone calls.
What makes grassroots activism effective is the emphasis on collective action to address an acute problem, often at the local level. A movement only needs one individual to bring people together to put pressure on elected officials, government bodies and corporations to make change.
Of course, some movements fizzle out before achieving their goal. However, there are plenty of success stories. And we believe every one of you, our members, can change attitudes to get people in your own communities to understand there is no such thing as nuisance wildlife.
We’re highlighting some people like you who didn’t quit and elicited positive change for wildlife, because they believed what anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In 2007, Lisa Owens-Viani was working for a local Audubon chapter in Berkeley when her neighbor brought her the bodies of two birds that he found dead in his kids’ plastic wading pool. The neighbor wanted Owens-Viani’s help identifying the birds.
Not only could she identify them, but she also thought she might even know them. They were likely a pair of Cooper’s hawks that had been recently fledged from a nest she’d been monitoring as part of her volunteer survey work for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory.
Necropsies done at UC Davis confirmed the birds died from second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides.
Owens-Viani put up flyers across her neighborhood and soon found more reports of dead raptors in Berkeley, including one Cooper’s hawk that had bled out on a sidewalk in front of a child. A necropsy later confirmed that its body had a high level of the SGAR brodifacoum.
“I thought if this is happening here, it’s happening everywhere and we’ve got to do something,” said Owens-Viani, who is a freelance writer.
So, she formed the non-profit Raptors are the Solution (raptorsarethesolution.org.) to launch a large-scale public education campaign. She came up with creative advertising campaigns using slogans like “Don’t Poison My Dinner” and “Rat Poisons Kill More than Rats,” with photos of owls and hawks on billboards, busses and in train stations.
Around the same time, San Francisco became the first municipality to urge local businesses to remove second generation pesticides from their shelves. RATS led similar campaigns, ultimately convincing some 38 cities to pass equivalent resolutions.
Then in 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides were so harmful that they pulled them from consumer shelves. However there was a loophole that allowed licensed pest control companies to continue to use them. So Owens-Viani and her allies pressed the legislature to ban SGARS.
In 2020, California became the first state in the country to pass a landmark bill that puts a moratorium on the sale and use of SGARs until California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation finishes its reevaluation.
“We’ve won a big battle, but this is a war. It’s not over,” she said. “I’m now trying to help people in other states. We need someone stepping forward in each state to really lead on the issue.
At press time Owens-Viani was helping Friends of Animals and A Place Called Hope raptor rehabilitation center in Killingworth press the CT legislature to ban SGARS.
“I am not of a political mind and had not envisioned myself being the ‘push’ I became,” explained Christine Cummings, president of A Place Called Hope. “However I felt so overwhelmed by the uptick in cases of predatory bird patients I was admitting who were actively dying without any external injuries. So, I pursued my state senator and she is championing the legislation that would ban SGARS in Connecticut.”
Nina Sherwood takes care of the farm animals at the Stamford Museum and Center, an 80-acre rural oasis in Connecticut that also includes an organic vegetable garden. She brought her passion for animals and the environment to her position as a member of Stamford’s Board of Selectman and began thinking about how her tax dollars were being used.
“I didn’t want them to be used by the city to spray chemicals where kids play and birds live,” Sherwood said.
So, she introduced the most expansive pesticide ban ordinance in the state, which also prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizers. The ordinance passed quickly in 2021, in large part because she put in three years of research to figure out what the best path was.
“I had to be the person in the room who knew the most about pesticides every single time,” Sherwood said. “What I learned through my research is that you can’t ban pesticide products and then continue using synthetic fertilizers and assume that grass is going to grow without any problems. You need to create an ecosystem that grass can thrive in and out-compete the crabgrass and weeds and everything else. If you are using synthetic fertilizers, you change the PH, and you’re not able to create an ecosystem that grass thrives in.”
Sherwood made sure she had all the departments in the city and the mayor on board before she introduced the ordinance. And she garnered strong support from national, state, and local groups like Pollinator Pathway Stamford to help make the case at public hearings.
Sherwood pointed out that she got lucky because the city’s Mill River Park had been doing an organic management program for 10 years and boasts the best grass in the city.
“An organic program done right will take 2-5 years to get the soil where it needs to be so that you have a pristine lawn. My argument was the first three years may not look that great, but Mill River Park is what it could look like,” she said.
Ludington, Mich. resident Terry Grams enjoys when deer visit his yard. He estimates several generations of the same family have come through, so the idea of having them slaughtered a couple of blocks from his home was very upsetting.
The Ludington City Council had voted at the end of 2022 to enter a contract with the U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to slaughter at least 40 deer within the city using $50,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which were provided to the city because of government shutdowns during the pandemic.
Grams put together a website, www.stopthedeercull.org and took out newspaper ads to protest the killing spree.
“How is it OK to kill a female deer because she ate some of your flowers?” asked Grams.
He explained that when he started to put the website together, he was searching information on animal rights organizations and found Friends of Animals. Several organizations wrote back, but FoA was the only one that took independent action to help by rallying our members to contact city council members to oppose the hunt.
“That was extremely helpful not only because I am sure city officials took note of a large national organization supporting my efforts and the consequences of the potential of negative publicity, but for the encouragement it gave me to keep going,” Grams said. “It helped a lot when I was told I was wasting my money on newspaper advertising and my time on the website.”
On Jan. 9, the Ludington City Council shot down a proposed deer hunt, delivering a much needed and deserved victory for these beloved mammals.
“We applaud Terry Grams for his energetic, resourceful activism and for his persistence,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Elected officials do have to be held accountable, and we hope this and the other stories inspire our members around the country to work tirelessly to protect wildlife in their midst. These victories are more proof that public backlash matters.”