- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that would outlaw sales related to wildlife trafficking of items from animals like lions and tigers in Washington state.

Initiative 1401 would ban the purchase, sale and distribution of parts or products made from 10 endangered animals: lions, elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays. Offenders could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The first batch of election results Tuesday night showed I-1401 winning with more than 70 percent of the vote statewide, and leading in all of the state’s 39 counties.

“It’s incredible the overwhelming support we’re seeing from voters across the state,” said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for the I-1401 campaign. “The fact we’re seeing such strong protections under state law for these species is a momentum boost for people working across the country and around the world to fight poaching.”

States like California, New York and New Jersey have enacted less sweeping legislation, and Pickus noted that Washington is the first state to pass such protections at the ballot.

“This may be providing a model for other states to pass similar protections,” he said.

Supporters of the issue in Oregon announced Monday that they are planning a measure similar to Washington state’s to appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning the importing, buying or selling of elephant ivory and rhino horns, ending the previous exemption in the state that allowed selling ivory imported before 1977. New Jersey and New York also have laws banning the sale of ivory and rhino horns, with some exceptions.

By prohibiting trade at the state level, I-1401 creates a class C felony, with sanctions that could result in a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $10,000 fine for items $250 or higher. Those with less valuable items would be charged with a gross misdemeanor, and face jail time of up to a year and a fine of up to $5,000.

There are a handful of exemptions, including antiques or musical instruments where an endangered animal makes up less than 15 percent of the item; animal parts or products distributed for educational, scientific or museum purposes; and items that are passed on through a will or estate. However, for antiques to be considered exempt, they would need documentation of provenance and proof that the item is at least 100 years old.

The Washington state measure comes as there has been a pronounced focus on poaching and ivory. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced measures to stem the trade of ivory, building on previous restrictions.

Stuart Halsan, an antique collector from Centralia, Washington who headed the opposition campaign, said he wasn’t surprised with the outcome, considering the I-1401 campaign raised more than $3 million, including large donations by billionaire Paul Allen.

“We knew we had a tough hill to climb with the disparity in resources,” he said.

Halsan said that many people who own historical items will find them valueless unless they have the documentation required by the initiative.

“I’ve received several phone calls from people with ivory artifacts that are old asking ‘how can I sell them?’” Halsan said. “And I’ve said: don’t hold your breath.”

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