- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont is poised to join a growing list of states banning or restricting the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns amid growing concerns about the slaughter of African elephants and rhinoceroses.

The state Senate on Tuesday advanced and was expected Wednesday to pass its version of a House-passed bill that would ban the sale of ivory and rhino horns and products containing those items, but with a key exception for ivory inserted at the behest of antique dealers.

Unlike the House version - the two would have to be reconciled later - the Senate bill creates a grace period until July 1, 2017, during which owners of ivory could swear a notarized statement that their ivory was obtained legally. The statement would make the future sale of the ivory legal, but would have to be conveyed with the item.

That drew the ire of animal rights activists, who see the exception as a loophole big enough to herd an elephant through on the way to its death. African elephants have been reduced from several million a century ago to fewer than 500,000 today, according to several reports.

Under the Senate bill, someone engaged in the illegal international ivory trade “could say you acquired it legally, knowing full well that you obtained it illegally,” getting papers declaring the item legal, said Barry Londeree, state director for the Human Society of the United States.

“It might make Vermont a destination for registering your (illegal) ivory,” he said.

The activists’ alarms about the slaughter of animals has been buttressed in recent years by reports that funds from the sale of ivory have wound up supporting terrorist groups. The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services heard testimony last year that the group Al-Shabaab has been able to raise as much as $600,000 a month from the sale of elephant tusks, a violation of international law. Four gunmen from the Somali extremist group killed 148 people in April 2015 at a college in Garissa, Kenya.

Among states taking action in the last two years are California, New York and New Jersey. In 2015, 27 bills restricting the sale of animal parts and products were under consideration in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington state passed a referendum in November, and bills are now pending in Connecticut, Delaware and Hawaii.

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, who described the bill to his Senate colleagues, called it a compromise designed to address the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, while mollifying antique and musical instrument dealers who feared they would lose their trade in old pianos, ivory-handled firearms and furniture and art objects containing the substance.

Richard Woodard, an antiques dealer from Waterbury Center, said he had a 2-foot bronze figure of a woman and dogs highlighted with ivory that dates to the 1930s. He valued it at $40,000 but said it would be worthless if an outright ban on ivory sales like those sought by animal protection groups were passed.

His wife Barbara Woodard said someone might move to Vermont after 2017 with ivory items for which no notarized statement had been obtained. That person would be barred from selling them, she said. “They move to Vermont and all of a sudden their ivory’s useless,” she said.

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