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Chip Burkhalter: I-1401 won’t affect global of ivory trade

Every legitimate hunter abhors the act of poaching. The penalty for those caught and convicted of illegal poaching cannot be high enough. The solution to poaching, however, will never be found in proposals that penalize law-abiding citizens.

This principle holds true in the debate over Initiative 1401, which will be on the ballot in Washington this November. Proponents want to stop ivory poachers in Africa but, unfortunately, I-1401 – backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Save Animals Facing Extinction (SAFE) – will do nothing to stop poaching on that distant continent. It will only penalize the law-abiding citizens of Washington.

For an effective solution to ivory poaching, we must look for strategies to combat those who intentionally and illegally take and traffic ivory. But instead of focusing on poachers, smugglers and black-market profiteers of illicit ivory, Allen and SAFE have decided to attack law-abiding owners of legally obtained ivory, including hunters who import legally hunted trophies, musicians whose instruments contain ivory, law-abiding gun owners whose antique firearms contain ivory, and the owners of countless items that may feature ivory in small amounts.

These ordinary items include antiques, artwork, jewelry, knives, furniture and many other lawfully owned and obtained items that contain ivory or any other “covered animal” part or products. I-1401 adds insult to this injury by taking from owners the value of ivory they own legally.

Proponents of I-1401 claim that this action is necessary to save a number of African species from imminent extinction. This claim stems from a recent surge in poaching that threatens some species populations in countries with weak governments, ineffective law enforcement and poor conservation programs. But the justifications for an ivory ban in Washington have drifted far from relevant science, law, and political and economic realities in Africa and around the world. The ivory ban theory is unsupported by reality.

The goal of the proposed ivory ban is to strip ivory of all commercial value by prohibiting its sale, but the potential result would be an unconstitutional taking without due process or adequate compensation. But even setting those very serious legal issues aside, this plan is doomed to fail because of its naiveté, corrupt local governments that aid and abet poachers, and a total disregard of the thriving and well-documented illegal ivory trade in Asia.

Instead of relying on science and economics, ivory ban advocates say they are motivated to choke the global demand for ivory by setting an example for smugglers in China and elsewhere in Asia. This rationale, too, fails to pass even superficial logical, practical and political standards of scrutiny.

Why does Washington need another law that covers existing laws? There are federal and state laws in place already that make selling or trafficking ivory and other parts of endangered species illegal. Does anyone believe that poachers in Africa and their eager customers in Asia will pay any heed to the passage of a ballot initiative in Washington?

The Endangered Species Act and the African Elephant Conservation Act are federal laws that already contain extensive restrictions regarding the import, possession and trade in endangered species, including animal parts. In addition, Washington laws already protect local wildlife and prohibit the possession of any animal product from another country where the wildlife is known to have been illegally killed.

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated in its September 2012 fact sheet, there is no significant trade of illegal ivory into this country, and the continued sale of lawfully owned ivory in the United States would not increase poaching. The U.S. has a well-developed market for trading antiques, art, musical instruments, firearms, knives, scrimshaw and countless other items that incorporate ivory. The international body responsible for administering the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also has not identified any significant flow of illegal ivory into the U.S.

Sound scientific principles, not the hyperbole and emotionalism of I-1401 backers, are the best way to manage wildlife and habitat.. Although they may think that it is preferable to appease their consciences with emotionally based public campaigns, such responses brought in the name of conservation often fail to be in the best interest of wildlife.

We urge all voters to vote no on I-1401 this Election Day.

Chip Burkhalter is the Washington, D.C.-based director of government affairs for Safari Club International.

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