As the “endangered species capital of the world,” Hawai‘i knows first-hand the devastating impacts of losing significant and iconic native species. The state has now taken a historic step in helping to prevent the further loss of critically endangered species within its own borders and abroad.
With the signing of Senate Bill 2647, now Act 125, Hawai‘i passes the most comprehensive U.S. state law targeting the illegal wildlife trade.
The law goes into effect immediately, although enforcement of the law is delayed until June 30, 2017 to grant individuals and businesses with wildlife products in their possession time to lawfully dispossess of the items. The law also provides reasonable exemptions for bona fide antiques, musical instruments, guns and knives, and traditional cultural practices.
In the past two years, a number of states across the U.S. have pushed for stricter laws to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking. New York, New Jersey, and California have each passed laws prohibiting the purchase and sale of products made with elephant ivory and rhino horn. And in 2015, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Paul G. Allen backed Initiative 1401, a first-of-its-kind statewide ballot measure that will keep products from 10 highly endangered animals out of his home state of Washington.
“The loss of species has significant and unpredictable consequences for the health of our planet. The passage of this legislation is an important step in stopping this race to extinction,” said Jared Axelrod, government affairs manager for Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. “We believe the most effective way to save animals from extinction is to strengthen enforcement. This new law will provide enforcement officials with the tools they need to stop the traffickers and disrupt the supply chain.”
The Hawai‘i bill was supported by hundreds of local residents and dozens of grassroots groups across Hawai‘i who testified in support of the measure this session and the Hawai‘i Wildlife Coalition – Vulcan Inc., a Paul G. Allen company, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“Hawaii has long been one of the United States’ major markets for ivory and other wildlife products, and illicit trade is driving many species – from tigers and rhinoceros to sharks and pangolins – to the verge of extinction,” said Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s Regional Director for North America. “Act 125 proves that the state’s citizens and lawmakers prioritize living, breathing animals more than bangles and gaudy curios.”
“Hawaiians are determined to do their part to protect elephants and other endangered species and want the massacre of these creatures for their body parts in other regions of the world to stop. Hawaii has adopted a zero tolerance policy for wildlife trafficking and cruelty with the signing of this critical legislation,” said Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. Senator Mike Gabbard, Chair of the State Senate Water, Land, and Agriculture Committee and co-author of the Hawai‘i bill, said, “We feel a grave responsibility for protecting wildlife species from illegal trafficking, both here and around the world. This bill is a powerful step in the right direction.”
Act 125 passes just as Curtis Wilmington, owner of Hawaiian Accessories, was sentenced to a six month jail term and $40,000 fine in federal court for conspiring to smuggle ivory in and out of Hawai‘i. The company was ordered to pay an additional $50,000 fine. Wilmington and four others were charged with federal wildlife crimes after US Fish and Wildlife agents seized hundreds of products from the business, including illegal parts from elephants, whales, and walruses. “Hawaii officials are sending a strong message to wildlife traffickers that their borders are closed to all activity which is devastating wildlife around the globe,” said John F. Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society and director or the 96 Elephants Campaign. “At WCS, we are committed to continue this fight across the United States and the world. We look forward to joining our partners at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September to take further action to end the domestic ivory trade in other countries around the world and to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade.”
The federal government is working to help ensure that the United States is appropriately fighting the poaching and wildlife trafficking crisis, and earlier this year President Obama announced a near-total ban in the interstate trade in ivory. But states must also do their part to ensure that their laws sufficiently protect endangered animals. Hawai‘i State Representative Ryan Yamane, Chair House Committee on Water and Land hopes Hawaii’s law will become the model for future state legislation across the country. “I am proud to craft this model legislation that will protect our endangered species from the threat of illegal trade to preserve our precious animals for our future generations. This law was a collaborative effort balancing our conservation needs with our local cultural practices to erase Hawai‘i’s involvement in the global blood ivory trade.”
Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the new law, “The Hawaiian Islands have long been a sanctuary for some of the earth’s greatest creatures. Now, these protections and aloha are being extended thousands of miles away for one of the most majestic animals: the African elephant. Hawaii’s leadership shows us how we can all do our part to combat the illegal trade and trafficking of highly threatened elephants, rhinos and sea turtles. We hope their leadership will be replicated across the country and the world.”
Hawai‘i is the latest state, after Washington, California, New York, and New Jersey, to take action to address the continued threat of poaching and wildlife trafficking.