In Our View: Vote ‘Yes’ on Initiative 1401

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The poaching of exotic animals might seem like an issue that is far removed from Washington. Yet that should not prevent voters in this state from taking a step to combat the global scourge.

With Initiative 1401 on the statewide ballot, Washingtonians have an opportunity to weigh in on the trading of exotic animal parts and set a standard for other jurisdictions to follow. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote in favor of I-1401.

As always, this is merely a recommendation, as the Columbian trusts voters to examine the issue before making an informed decision. In looking at I-1401, we trust that voters also will see little downside to passing the measure.

I-1401, as explained in the voters’ guide, “makes it a crime to sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, barter for, or distribute any covered animal species part or product. Covered animal species are any species of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah, pangolin, marine turtle, shark or ray.” (For those of us not well-versed in exotic species, a pangolin also is known as a scaly anteater.) I-1401 would set trafficking penalties of up to five years of jail time, with fines of up to $10,000 and an additional $2,000 for each offense.

The initiative includes exceptions for items that many people already own, preventing their sale but allowing for inheritance or the donation of items for scientific research or to a museum. As for the cost to taxpayers, the Office of Financial Management estimates that implementation will require less than $50,000 a year, unless the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife hires additional enforcement officers.

Initiative 1401 is being bankrolled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who became aware of the plight of endangered animals during excursions to Africa. That plight, in some cases, is dire. Due to poaching, there are five remaining members of the northern white rhinoceros species, including one male, and conservationists in Kenya have taken to attempting in vitro fertilization in order for the species to survive. Poaching also has reduced the number of elephants around the world to an estimated 450,000, with more than 20,000 being killed each year so their ivory tusks may be harvested.

All of that hits home with some of the bounty traveling through the international ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Since 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confiscated more than 50 elephant products entering Washington, in addition to parts of tigers, leopards and other rare species.

The impetus for the global trade is easily understood. Rhino horns can fetch about $30,000 per pound, and a pair of elephant tusks can be sold for up to $60,000 in Asia, with poachers at the start of the supply chain fetching some $3,000. Ivory prices in Asia have tripled in recent years, suggesting no end in sight for the market.

Initiative 1401 will not prevent this harvest. There is little that can be done in Washington to alter a global market or prevent the abhorrent practice of killing endangered animals for their tusks, horns or fins. But with Oregon and California also considering measures to reduce trafficking of such parts, this state can help build a wall along the West Coast while sending a message that such practices are unacceptable. A journey of 1,000 miles, it has been said, begins with a single step.

Because of that, The Columbian urges voters to support Initiative 1401. It is simply the right thing to do.