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On Your Ballot: Initiative 1401 seeks to protect endangered species

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SEATTLE -- This election season, voters across Washington are being asked to help protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

Initiative 1401 would outlaw the sale of products from threatened animals, including elephant tusks and leopard skins.

“Washingtonians really need to step up and help us save animals,” said Dr. Fred Koontz of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Supporters of Initiative 1401 argue that as a port state, Washington does have a market, albeit small, for products that come from animals illegally poached overseas.  They acknowledge, though, that Asia is still where the demand is highest.  But a vote here, they argue, can make a difference.

“This is about setting an example,” Koontz said.  “How can our political leaders go to China and tell them to stop the domestic trade if we don’t stop it here?”

Here are the main elements of Initiative 1401:

  • Ban selling and trading of products from 10 threatened species
  • That includes: elephant ivory, rhino horns and leopard skins
  • Exemptions: antiques and musical instruments
  • Maximum penalties: 5 years in jail and $10,000 fine

Opponents argue that the initiative goes overboard by outlawing not just new imports of these products, but also prohibiting people from selling products they already possess.  That includes jewelry and family heirlooms.

The measure is being bankrolled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who donated nearly $2 million to the effort.

A recent Elway poll shows a strong 66% support for the measure.