Endangered Species Trafficking Protection Initiative 1401 Passes
By Sara Fabian
Washington residents overwhelmingly approved the statewide Initiative 1401 with nearly 72 percent of the vote. Washington is now the first state in the country to successfully ask voters to create new penalties under state law for those caught trafficking in products made from key endangered species. Washington is now the first state in the country to successfully ask voters to create new penalties under state law for those caught trafficking in products made from key endangered species.
Animals such as elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles, sharks, and rays (and their parts or products) may not be imported, sold, traded or distributed within Washington except for certain exemptions for antiques, scientific purposes and musical instruments. Violators face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $10,000 fine. Passage of I-1401 closes Tacoma and Seattle ports, which together are the third most trafficked container port in the U.S.
Animal rights groups, zoos, environmental organizations and the Humane Society support the measure. they hope to make sure it will help keep some endangered species from going extinct, particularly elephants that are being targeted by poachers in Africa for their ivory. The Seattle and Tacoma ports are entry points for these products for the United States, which is a major market, and a new law would allow state authorities help stop that trade.
Save Animals Facing Extinction (SAFE), the campaign committee, has raised $2.5 million and spent about $1.3 million on signature-gathering. Its biggest donor is Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, who has contributed more than $1.5 million to the cause.
Sam Wasser, Director of University of Washington’s Center For Conservation Biology says that “illegal wildlife trade has become the world’s fourth or fifth largest transnational organized crime. I-1401 is not just about stopping the illegal trade in Washington.” He continues “Many people don’t realize how important Washington is — together, our ports in Seattle and Tacoma represent the third most heavily trafficked container port in the US. California and New York are already working towards ending illegal wildlife trade. “ Wasser believes that in order to create and live in a sustainable world, starting with Washington state, need to send a collective message that environmental security and economic security must go hand in hand.
The Seattle Times reported on the reasoning behind the measure, writing, “Initiative supporters say that while federal law bans smuggling of many endangered species’ parts, without local penalties the trade continues to run amok . . . . the 10 animals that would be protected were chosen because they’re among the most frequent targets for international smuggling. The little-known pangolin, for example, is a rare, scale-covered mammal about the size of a cat that has become heavily poached because its fetuses are believed by some to be an aphrodisiac.”
One of the Opposing groups of the I-1401 initiative was the Legal Ivory Rights Coalition. They said that I-1401 won’t stop poaching in other countries, and trafficking in poached ivory is already a federal felony. Instead, it’s likely to target ivory that is legally crafted, sold and purchased in Washington. They also believe that the antique exemption included in the proposal is a sham because it only applies to items at least 100 years-old with records to prove it. The coalition set up a political committee, but hadn’t reported any contributions at of the end of September.