When Oregon voters go to the polls this week, they will decide whether to ban the buying and selling of illegal animal products, such as ivory and jaguar skins.
The 12 species covered by ballot Measure 100 are being poached internationally at high rates and many are threatened with extinction. Supporters say Oregonians should do their part in the fight against animal trafficking with a “yes” vote.
If the measure passes, Oregon will join neighbors California and Washington in having such a law. There are some questions, however, about how effective the Oregon measure would be.
In Washington, a voter-approved ban passed by a landslide last year and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife added the banned animals to its watch list. “But, as far as putting together an operation and starting to focus attention on a known trafficker, we’re a long ways from doing that in an effective way that address species beyond our local critters,” says Mike Cenci, the department’s deputy chief.
A big reason? Washington’s measure didn’t include additional funding to enforce the ban. Oregon’s doesn’t either. Officers would be relying on the same staffing and budgets they use to enforce the rest of the state’s wildlife laws.
Only federal agents keep an eye out for trade in animals like tigers, whales and rhinos in Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Sheila O’Connor, one of only four agents assigned to the entire state, says wildlife trafficking is alive and well in Oregon, and more officers would help.
“We can’t be everywhere, we can’t go into every store, we can’t view every online page offering things for sale here in the state of Oregon,” she says. “So, if a state makes trafficking illegal, then we have a lot more eyes in the marketplace.”
A recent report by the wildlife trade monitoring organization, TRAFFIC, shows ivory availability dropping in states that have banned sales. Among the six US cities examined in the study, Portland, Oregon, was flagged as having the second highest amount of ivory in the market.
If the wildlife trafficking measure passes, that could change, says Scott Beckstead, Oregon Director for the Humane Society of the United States. Beckstead’s group is the main financial backer of the campaign. “If we can get Measure 100 passed, then the entire west coast of the United States suddenly becomes far less hospitable to the smugglers,” he says.
Beckstead says there are exceptions built in to Oregon’s proposed law, many of which follow current federal law. For example, vintage musical instruments, like ivory-keyed pianos, and older antiques with established provenance. The law would also allow items to be passed down through inheritance. The goal, explains Beckstead, is to take away the economic incentive.
Right now, he says, “once the smugglers get these items into Oregon, there is no state law to prevent those items from being bought and sold.”