We Must Act Now To Save Endangered Wildlife

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 22, 2016
Mike Gabbard

On April 12, my House colleagues passed Senate Bill 2647 unanimously. House Speaker Joe Souki spoke for the legislation, calling it “a wonderful bill.” I couldn’t agree more. The bill prohibits trafficking of endangered wildlife species within our beautiful islands.

This is an important measure, long overdue in our state.

My counterpart, Rep. Ryan Yamane, chair of the House Water and Land Committee, and I both drafted measures to address the black market for wildlife products that exists in Hawaii. During the legislative process, we engaged a wide variety of local stakeholders, and over the course of the session, we were involved in numerous negotiations. We believe the many revisions to the legislation were the result of a truly collaborative good-faith effort.

As a result, many accommodations were made to those concerned about unintended consequences of the legislation. The final version of the bill, which is now in conference committee, provides clear evidence of the effort to successfully address a range of legitimate issues from gun enthusiasts, art and antique collectors and many other stakeholder groups.

Consequently, many exceptions to the prohibition of sales were added to our bills, including exemptions for traditional cultural practices, guns, knives, musical instruments, and antiques.
The bill will have no effect on the thousands of families who currently possess ivory heirlooms, since it does not affect possession. It targets only the sale of illicit wildlife products. Even the original stricter requirement to document the origin of heirlooms was eased to ensure only those involved in illegal trafficking, not law-abiding jewelry owners, are targeted.

The only purpose of the bill is to stop the trafficking of animals threatened with extinction, a practice that continues to grow at an alarming pace, threatening an increasing variety of endangered animal species.

The threat of extinction is due in large part to the trafficking of animal parts and products. The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, released in February 2014, recognized the important role states could play in protecting species subject to the illegal wildlife trade.

By passing this bill, we’re doing our part as good citizens and good stewards of this earth.

Right now, we are losing the race against extinction. If current trends continue, one-half of the world’s endangered higher life forms will be extinct by the year 2100.

The most effective way to discourage illegal trafficking is to eliminate markets and profits. It’s in the public interest to protect animal species threatened with extinction by prohibiting the sales of their parts within our state.

Sadly, studies have shown that Hawaii may be the third largest market for ivory in the United States. However, New York and California, the only two states that were higher on this list, both recently passed state laws restricting ivory sales, meaning that Hawaii is now likely at the top of the list.
Now, it’s our turn.

The problem is urgent. Right now, we, as a global community, are losing the race against extinction. If current trends continue, half of the world’s endangered higher life forms will be extinct by the year 2100.
If Hawaii, as the endangered species capital of the world, will not take a stand for the earth’s most critical threatened animals, who will?

Independent polls show that there is overwhelming support for this legislation. Among those surveyed, 80 percent were registered voters. And among this group, 86 percent supported the legislation, while a marginally smaller 85 percent of those not registered to vote supported a ban.

In September, the World Conservation Congress will be coming to Hawaii and the world will be watching us. We are an amazing conservation community. This bill is an opportunity to lead. It’s an opportunity to shine. It’s an opportunity to tell a new story: how the endangered species capital of the world, became the leader in endangered species protection and recovery.

We must be champions, because we are acting for those with no voice and no ability to advocate for themselves. We are acting for the most vulnerable on our planet.