By Joel Connelly
Washington voters will have an opportunity to slap on tough penalties for trafficking in parts and products of species threatened with extinction, thanks to an initiative campaign underwritten by Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The campaign for Initiative 1401 is turning in 348,627 signatures, far more than the 246,372 needed, to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Allen launched the campaign when the Legislature refused to act: The measure is focused on a list of 10 endangered animals: Elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, manta rays and pangolins.
The filing of I-1401 came amidst heightened international concern that poaching is endangering signature species on land and sea.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Vietnam this week, to confer with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung about the growing trade and criminal gangs that run it.
“Both Vietnam and the United States have a role to play in shutting down illegal trade in wildlife, and it is critical that we collaborate in our mutual efforts to crack down on poaching and trading by international criminal organizations,” Jewell said Wednesday.
The confrontational conservationists of the Sea Shepherd Society are tracking a shipment of 1,700 metric tons of fin whale meat to Japan. The endangered fins, second largest whale species, were slaughtered by an Icelandic whaling company.
Paul Allen has been an environmental philanthropist. He put up money to prevent the 25,000-acre state-owned Loomis Forest — located at the far east end of the Cascades — from being clearcut. The forest is home to lynx, moose and other animals rare in Washington.
But in 2011 federal wildlife officials seized and destroyed a 72-pound load of giraffe bones improperly taken out of Botswana aboard Vulcan Inc. plane. Vulcan is Allen’s development company.
Canvassers for I-1401 were using Allen’s name as they canvassed for signatures at such locales as the Mukilteo ferry dock.
“I know how serious the situation is: Marine turtles have been around for millions of years, but they could be gone from our oceans in the next few decades,” Mark Plunkett, conservation manager at the Seattle Aquarium, said at the I-1401 announcement.
“Every year, 100 million sharks are slaughtered, and the population of rays is in massive decline. The Seattle Aquarium supports I-1401 because we know it will make a real difference in protecting endangered animals, including the growing list of aquatic species that are facing the threat of extinction.”
Paul Koontz, vice president of field conservation for the Woodland Park Zoo, praised Allen and faulted the Legislature:
“Earlier this year, Woodland Park Zoo advocated strongly in the Washington Legislature on behalf of a bill to strengthen laws against the trafficking of products made from endangered animals, but the legislature failed to act,” Koontz said. “If we want to save these animals, time is running out.”
A high-profile wolf-poaching incident in Okanogan County has focused attention on the problem.
A poacher in the Methow Valley shot two animals from a recently re-established pack, and tried to ship a bloody wolf pelt to Canada.
The poacher and his family were caught — and given stiff fines — after a Federal Express employee became suspicious of the package. The family had been involved in other poaching incidents.
Barbara Bennett, CEO of Vulcan Inc., said at the announcement:
“Trafficking in products derived from these animals is not just a problem in Africa and Asia, it is a problem right here in Washington state. As evidence by the 348,627 signatures we received in support of I-401, the citizens of Washington want this unconscionable trade to be stopped.”