71% in favor
OLYMPIA––Washington state voters on November 3, 2015 overwhelmingly approved Initiative Measure 1401, introducing state-level felony penalties for the purchase, sale, and/or distribution of products made from elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, sea turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays.
At least 50 individuals have reportedly been apprehended in possession with such contraband in Washington state since 2010, but so far none have been jailed.
Resounding defeat for hunting & gun lobbies
A pre-election Elway poll predicted that I-1401 would pass with 66% of the vote. Within 90 minutes of the Washington polls closing, at 8:00 p.m., I-1401 had secured a commanding lead, and at 10:00 p.m. had won 71% of the votes cast: 632,381 of 891,730 votes total.
Only 259,349 votes were cast in opposition, a resounding defeat for the hook-and-bullet and gun lobbies in a historically pro-hunting and pro-gun state––albeit a state in which voters prohibited hunting pumas and bears with hounds in 1996, the first major defeat of the hunting and gun lobbies by a pro-animal ballot initiative campaign since the passage of a leghold trap ban in Massachusetts in 1930.
The Humane Society of the U.S., leading the campaign for I-1401, declared victory at 10:21 p.m.
Placed on the Washington ballot through a petition drive funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who reportedly invested $2 million of his own money, I-1401 was endorsed by celebrities including Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, and by most of the leading news media in the state, among them the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, Yakima Herald, Vancouver Columbian, and The Olympian.
I-1401 also won the support of virtually the entire Washington state humane community. Perhaps most influentially, however, I-1401 was prominently endorsed by the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, located in Tacoma, also operating the Northwest Trek wildlife park in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
Together the three zoos and two aquariums hosted nearly three million visitors between April 2015, when the I-1401 petition drive began, and election day. As nonprofit institutions closely associated with their respective municipal and county governments, the zoos and aquariums usually steer well clear of political issues. For I-1401, however, they openly campaigned.
Speaking out for sea creatures
Explained the Seattle Aquarium web site, “Sea turtles, sharks and manta rays are the marine species that would be protected by the passage of the initiative. Their populations are in serious decline worldwide; they are being hunted to death.
“All seven sea turtle species are endangered, three of them critically so. Hunting and illegal egg collection are a major factor in the decline of these beautiful aquatic creatures..According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a quarter of the world’s shark species are threatened with extinction due to overfishing—every year, over 100 million sharks are slaughtered. Many are killed by the cruel practice of finning, where sharks have their fins sliced off while they’re alive and are then thrown back into the water where, unable to swim, they slowly die… Over the last decade, a spike in demand for the gills of rays has led to a massive decline in population; up to 50% in some areas. Because the gills fetch a high price in certain markets, the killing continues unabated.”
Despite statements against I-1401 issued by many leading pro-hunting and pro-gun organizations, I-1401 met with relatively little organized opposition.
“Costly pain in the butt”
Perhaps the most influential opponent was longtime Spokane Statesman-Review hunting columnist Rich Landers. Landers objected that I-1401 “will do nothing more than be a costly pain in the butt,” because it will “saddle the state’s already understaffed and overburdened Fish and Wildlife police with new responsibilities in monitoring the public as well as state ports, shops and restaurants for ivory and other animal parts killed in other parts of the world.”
Indeed, budget cuts have reportedly reduced the Washington Fish & Wildlife Department law enforcement team from 165 officers at peak to 127 now.
But Landers’ chief objection to I-1401 emerged a few lines later: “There are definite currents of anti-hunting sentiment in this campaign,” he perceived, “which further distracts from the real problem: commercialized poaching.”
“Don’t shoot the piano player”
KnifeRights.org and Ammoland.com argued that I-1401 “will punish law-abiding citizens who own or collect ordinary items, including knives, antiques, artwork, jewelry, firearms and accessories, furniture and many other lawfully owned and obtained items that contain ivory, or any other ‘covered animal’ part or products.”
But as Zusha Elinson of Associated Press explained on election eve, “Antiques over a hundred years old with less than 15% ivory would still be legal to sell,” along with “musical instruments if 15% or less of the material was a banned substance, which would, for example, allow the resale of pianos with ivory keys.”
Similar legislation pertaining explicitly to ivory is already in effect in California, New Jersey, and New York. Bills introduced in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont in mid-2015 would bring those states’ laws into conformity with those of New Jersey and New York.
U.S. ivory traffic
Research by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Brian MacQuarrie of the Boston Globe earlier in 2015 found significant commerce in improperly identified “antique” ivory in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, South Florida, and Boston metropolitan areas.
The IFAW and Boston Globe findings followed up on the 2008 landmark report Ivory Markets in the USA, by Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles, of the Kenya-based organization Save The Elephants, published in partnership with Care for the Wild International.
Martin, a geographer, and Stiles, an anthropologist, had earlier produced comprehensive reports on the ivory traffic in Africa, southern and eastern Asia, and Europe.
In each report Martin and Stiles inventoried and documented all the ivory items they found offered for sale in examples of every type of retail outlet that might stock ivory. In the U.S., ivory dominoes, piano keys, and guitar picks attracted their notice, as well as the ornate carvings that are most often associated with antique and therefore legal uses of ivory.
Under the African Elephant Conservation Act, passed by Congress in 1988, legal ivory imports into the U.S. are limited to items at least a century old, trophy tusks from the few African nations where elephants are not considered endangered, and tusks collected before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was ratified in July 1975.
U.S. is 2nd largest ivory market
Seemingly narrow as those restrictions are, “Over 40,000 worked ivory items, excluding personal effects, entered the U.S. legally from 1995 to 2007, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” Martin and Stiles found.
Their coast-to-coast survey of 16 U.S. communities discovered 24,004 ivory items available at 657 outlets, “most of which probably were legally for sale.”
The U.S., Martin and Stiles concluded, “appears to have the second largest ivory retail market in the world after China/Hong Kong, as determined by the number of items offered for sale.”
Martin and Stiles believed that up to a third of the ivory they saw in the U.S. was illegally imported.”
Paul Allen, who bankrolled the I-1401 campaign from inception, “is best known for supporting scientific research and civic and arts organizations in the Pacific Northwest,” profiled Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton in August 2013. “But over the past several years, Allen also has been quietly bankrolling a range of wildlife-conservation projects in Africa.
“Allen owns three tourist lodges in Africa,” Doughton wrote, “including one in Botswana’s Okavongo Delta, that collectively host about 6,000 visitors a year. Since 2008, Allen and his foundation have donated nearly $10 million to African charities and projects. Most of the money went to wildlife conservation projects, like protecting lions in the deserts of Namibia and developing a migratory corridor for elephants in Tanzania.
“His largest African grant, $3 million,” Doughton reported, “was for analyzing the scent markers left by wild dogs, with the hope of developing chemical mimics that could be used to steer the animals away from human settlements.”
Doughton profiled Allen soon after his foundation granted $1 million to the Jane Goodall Institute to do a population survey of Grauer’s gorilla in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“With a fortune estimated at $17.4 billion,” Doughton finished, “Allen is 53rd on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. In 2012, he ranked fourth on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of America’s most generous donors.”