After a battle at the Capitol spanning three years, Gov. David Ige has signed into law Act 125, which will prohibit the sale of many wildlife products.
Hawaii legislators have been trying to pass law to ban most ivory sales since 2013. Even this year, the bill faced opposition during a Senate floor vote.
Investigations found Hawaii has the nation’s third-largest ivory market behind New York and California, respectively.
But both New York and California passed legislation restricting ivory sales before Hawaii. Combined with a thriving online black market worth more than $1.2 million, some feared Hawaii was poised to take over as the nation’s largest ivory market.
Act 125 will prohibit sales of a wider range of wildlife products, tailored specifically to Hawaii’s economy and local species. In addition to banning most sales of ivory, Hawaii’s law bans the sale of other species including endangered shark, turtle and ray products.
State Sen. Mike Gabbard, who introduced this year’s ivory bill and is chair of the Senate’s Water, Land and Agriculture Committee, recalled a 2013 incident where 300 elephants were killed in Africa by cyanide that poachers placed in water holes.
The “heartbreaking” images underscored the importance for Hawaii, considered by some to be the endangered species capital of the world, to join four states – New York, California, New Jersey and Washington – that have enacted laws to ban ivory sales, he said.
“This whole thing is so barbaric,” Gabbard said.
Hawaii’s law is unique because it identifies numerous land and marine animal species protected under law, he said. The bill had widespread support from national and international groups, Gabbard said.
How does he feel to see the bill to become law?
“Hallelujah,” he said. “I’m just really stoked.”
Ninety-four percent of ivory items for sale in Hawaii’s online black market were jewelry products, a survey found.
There are some exceptions made for ivory sales. Items at least 100 years old or composed of less than 20 percent animal product are allowed. Wildlife products used for Native Hawaiian cultural practices and educational or scientific purposes are also permitted.
The law will take effect June 30, 2017, to allow retailers time to rid their inventory legally of ivory and wildlife products.
The Departments of Land and Natural Resources and the Attorney General supported the measure.
During the legislative session, crafts people, jewelers and small business owners argued the ban would make it difficult to feed their families. The National Rifle Association also opposed the bill, arguing weapon owners with items partially made of ivory would be affected.
But Act 125 will only prohibit the sale of weapons with more than 20 percent composition of ivory, not the possession.
Just days after the bill became law, Curtis Wilmington, president and CEO of Hawaiian Accessories, was sentenced to six months of jail time Tuesday for conspiracy to smuggle wildlife to traffic ivory, bone and coral carvings.
Wilmington was fined $40,000 and lost about $100,000 in ivory and black coral items, according to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service press release. Hawaiian Accessories was sentenced to five years probation and fined $50,000.