- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to ban the sale of ivory help stop poachers from killing thousands of elephants each year for their tusks.

The House Committee on Water and Land passed a bill during a hearing Friday that would ban the sale of undocumented elephant ivory. The bill would also ban selling parts of other animals like tigers, sharks and rhinoceros.

Animal rights advocates say Hawaii has the third largest ivory market in the nation, behind New York and California, which have banned its sale. But if left unregulated, they say it could soon become the largest. Federal officials say the state is a prime location for smugglers looking to traffic illegal ivory because it’s a gateway to Asia.

The bill was supported by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Humane Society of the United States and several wildlife conservation organizations who say cracking down on Hawaii’s ivory market would curb the killing of elephants and cut funding for criminal organizations that smuggle ivory.

“This would be a huge achievement for Hawaii, making the state a leader on ending the poaching crisis,” said Elly Pepper of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But the proposal was opposed by local businesses, artists and collectors who worry they’ll be criminalized for owning legal ivory. Local jewelers and scrimshaw artists say it would put them out of work, while others say it could hurt collectors who own antique guns or musical instruments that are decorated with ivory.

“The only people harmed by this bill are law-abiding sellers and collectors of legal animal products, not the poachers and black market ivory dealers in other countries,” said Jessica Baker, who works at the Whaler’s Locker in Lahaina, Maui.

Right now, federal law bans importing elephant ivory for commercial purposes. Some ivory sales in Hawaii are already prohibited based on the age of the ivory.

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