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Friday, February 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: More red tape won’t save the elephants

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 16, 2015

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The guide motioned silently for us to follow him up the shallow side channel of the river. We dipped our canoe paddles noiselessly, wondering what we were about to see.

The guide signaled, and we floated to a stop. We froze as we soaked in the sight of a small herd of elephants crossing the stream not more than 20 yards from where we sat.

We encountered elephants from the safety of a car several more times during our 1999 trip to Africa, but when you’re sitting meekly at water level and they’re towering above you, they are a particularly impressive sight.

Elephants are magnificent. Elephants are awesome. I have a great appreciation for elephants, but not for Initiative 1401.

As stated in Initiative 1401, “Federal law regulates the transfer or importation of parts or products made from endangered animal species” and then proposes adding redundant rules at the state level. “Elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles, sharks, and rays” are not going to be saved by the state of Washington adding more red tape on those who legally own jewelry, art or other items containing parts of these species.

Particularly in Africa, poaching is a Third World governance and poverty issue, not a problem with First World demand.

New federal rules on the importation of ivory are already having unintended side effects. Consider the case of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which had seven bows seized last year by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The bows met the restrictions on age but lacked the proper paperwork. Forcing musicians to carry pedigrees for their instruments is not going to affect poachers. A musician’s primary investment may be a 400-year-old instrument containing pre-ban ivory; banning its sale will do nothing to save elephants but will create retirement hardship.

According to Initiative 1401, the proposed new state-level rules must be enforced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. At the agency’s visioning session last month in Spokane Valley, not one person said “let’s get WDFW involved with endangered species that don’t live here.”

We have enough challenges with the species we already have. Qualified biologists hired for expertise on shrub steppe rangeland, sage grouse or wolves are unlikely to be highly qualified in the identifying characteristics of exotic animal parts and the evaluation of antique musical instruments. As a local instrument maker and professional musician told me, “That’s one of the drawbacks. It’s hard enough for an expert to identify an authentic historic instrument from a fake … One of the problems with the exemptions is that it’s very difficult, unless you are the builder of an instrument, to certify its origin.”

When the director of WDFW submits the first “comprehensive report outlining current and future Code enforcement activities and strategies related to this act” as required by Initiative 1401, additional staffing and training will have to be on the list.

To be clear, this is not about endangered species as identified by any national agency or organization but by “the World Wildlife Fund-TRAFFIC, international union for conservation of nature, and other international conservation organizations.”

The World Wildlife Fund was established in 1961 as a fundraising organization for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and has expanded to a membership of 6.1 million worldwide with 1 million in the United States, according to the WWF website. IUCN was founded in 1948 and, according to its website, consists of “almost 1,300 government and NGO Members and more than 15,000 volunteer experts in 185 countries.” We should not tie the Revised Code of Washington to unregulated and unaccountable organizations, especially with no local check to balance their judgment.

Let’s save the endangered musicians and just say “no” on Initiative 1401.

It’s redundant, causes additional hardship to law-abiding citizens, will distract state wildlife officers from their already complex core mission and adds to the demands on the state budget without providing a benefit to the state – or the endangered species it seeks to protect.

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