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Washington State Votes Overwhelmingly To Shut Down Ivory Trade

Phyllis Fletcher
NW News Network
Vulcan Inc. President Barbara Bennett thanked Washington voters on Paul Allen's behalf for approving Initiative 1401.

By a wide margin, Washington voters have enacted a state law banning the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns and certain other endangered wildlife parts. Initiative 1401 is passing with more than 70 percent of the vote in favor statewide.

Billionaire Paul Allen bankrolled the measure to expand and toughen state penalties for animal trafficking on top of the federal laws and international treaties that already ban imports of endangered wildlife.  The president of Allen's company Vulcan Inc., Barbara Bennett, thanked Washington voters on Allen's behalf Tuesday night.

"Paul feels very strongly that I-1401 can serve as a model for similar initiatives around the country," Bennett said at a victory party in Seattle. "State by state, we will stop this trade."

The Yes on 1401 proponents ran the costliest campaign in Washington state this year, even though they faced little opposition. A similar coalition of animal protection groups has filed a nearly identical citizen's initiative in Oregon targeting the 2016 statewide ballot.

"We're going to close down the whole West Coast on this issue," said an exuberant Jennifer Hillman, the Humane Society of the United States' Director of Outreach and Engagement in Seattle. Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill passed by the state legislature that prohibits virtually all sales of elephant ivory and rhino horn in the Golden State.

Antique collector, attorney and lobbyist Stuart Halsan of Centralia, Washington, led the opposition, which called itself the Legal Ivory Rights Coalition. It reported negligible fundraising or campaign expenditures.

"We knew we had a tough hill to climb," said Halsan by phone after the outcome became clear. "This is a very stringent attempt to go after ivory trafficking by going after what has been legally acquired... before all of the endangered species acts."

"Ivory has been part of our culture for over 200 years," he added.

The initiative measure criminalizes the sale, trade or barter of ivory unless the seller can document that an antique is more than 100 years old or demonstrate that the ivory content of the piece (such as a musical instrument) is less than 15 percent by volume.

The new state law would apply to ten species of endangered wildlife, including elephants and rhinos. The other animals covered by I-1401 are lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins (a.k.a. scaly anteaters), and certain marine turtles, sharks and rays. Trade in their parts or products made from them would be barred.

The Yes on 1401 campaign called itself Save Animals Facing Extinction. It reported nearly $3.5 million in contributions to the state Public Disclosure Commission. More than half of that sum came from one man: Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers owner Allen. Despite being the driving force behind the citizen's initiative, Allen did not give interviews or make any public appearances to advocate for passage of the initiative.

At a victory party in Seattle, campaign manager Stephanie Ervin said the Washington initiative can serve as a model for other states.

"We can also be really proud of the other results that are going to come out of the future of this work," she said. "We are changing the landscape of how people make consumer choices about whether it is worth it to have ivory or whether the elephant needs it more."

Many of the animal protection groups backing Washington's initiative are now mobilizing to put a similar measure before Oregon voters next November.

In preliminary results, the 'yes' side was leading in all 39 counties of Washington state, an unusually strong showing for any statewide campaign.