NH House Threatens Wildlife Trafficking Ban
A New Hampshire anti-wildlife trafficking bill hit a devastating roadblock yesterday, likely handing out a death sentence not only to the bill itself, but some of our worlds most treasured species.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife trafficking has escalated into an international crisis, which is not only a critical conservation concern, but also a threat to global security.(1)
Reports from the US Director of National Intelligence document that criminal elements of all kinds, including terrorist entities and rogue military officers, are involved in this corrupt industry.(2) Additional reports document that those terrorist groups include Sudan's Lord's Resistance Army(3) and Somalia-based Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab.(4)
According to National Geographic, the lion population declined by nearly 50% in the past two decades, cheetahs have disappeared from more than 75% of their historic range, and fewer than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild.(5)
Based on reported seizures from criminals between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, and that only includes data from seizures which represents as little as 10% of the actual volume in the illegal wildlife trade.(7)
An estimated 1,305 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2015, out of a remaining 29,000 in the wild.(6) Savanna elephant populations also declined by 30 percent (equal to 144,000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014, primarily due to poaching.(8)
And those are just a few of the of the species that are being decimated.
Federal law prohibits the importation and interstate sale of parts from endangered species, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, but those laws do not extend to intrastate sales. NH law also prohibits the importation of some endangered species, but not the sale of their parts within our state borders.
Basically, current law says that if someone's caught in the act of importing an elephant tusk into NH, we'll acknowledge it, but if we catch them trying to sell the tusk, we'll ignore it.
That loophole prevents NH law enforcement and officials from prosecuting individuals who are involved in the wildlife trafficking trade, because it is not always possible to catch those individuals during importation, whereas it is more likely to do so when the individuals are in the process of selling them.
SB 451 would rectify that loophole by prohibiting the sale of the parts of 12 imperiled species, such as elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolin and sea turtles. This will in-turn, provide law enforcement the tools they need to enforce our federal and state wildlife trafficking laws efficiently.
Sen. David Watters (D-Dover), the sponsor of SB 451, put a great deal of time and effort into the bill, as did Lindsay Hamrick, NH State Director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Those efforts led to an agreement on the bill's language by the Safari Club International (SCI). When describing his initial reaction to that success, Watters lightheartedly stated, "Well, that's a first."
A first indeed. This may be the only time in history that a NH wildlife protection bill supported by the HSUS, has also been agreed upon by the SCI, one of the largest organizations with a strong mission to protect trophy hunting.
The bill is also supported by the NH Fish and Game Commission, as well as the Firearms Coalition. This is likely because it is well written, and provides commonsense exclusions, for antiques, knives, firearms, and instruments that includes animal byproducts if they were legally acquired.
All exclusions included in the federal law are echoed in SB 451. So if an individual was to own an item considered unlawful under the bill, it means such ownership would also be against federal law.
The bill also has 14 co-sponsors, strong bi-partisan support and was passed by the Senate unanimously on March 8th.
Unfortunately, those facts weren't enough for Rep. James Webb (R-Rockingham), Chairman of the House Fish and Game Committee, because he motioned to return the bill to his Committee on the House floor. An action that stopped the highly supported bill in its tracks, likely leading to its death.
Webb claimed that the Committee found "issues" with SB 451 and that the bill would "penalize businesses." These were odd statements considering his Committee amended the bill, which addressed the only known concern the House had.
House Majority Leader, Rep. Dick Hinch (R-Hillsborough) signed-in as being opposed to the bill the date of the House public hearing, March 20th.
According to Hinch, he felt that the exclusion for antiques within SB 451 needed clarification; an issue that was both easily and quickly resolved with the Committee's amendment. The House Fish and Game Committee then passed SB 451 as amended, by a vote of 12-4 on March 27th.
Webb further demonstrated his sheer lack of understanding of the bill, and the matter of wildlife trafficking when he stated, "...There are no elephants or rhinoceros in New Hampshire right now that are gonna to be slaughtered, or whatever."
This is not the first time Webb has taken actions to kill an animal welfare bill. He strongly opposed HB 1412-FN, a bill which would protect wildlife from egregious acts of torture. Webb's opposition to HB 1412-FN came despite an amendment that was drafted by Col. Kevin Jordan, Chief of Law Enforcement, NH Fish and Game Dept.
On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Catherine Harvey (D-Cheshire) and Rep. Ellen Read (D-Rockingham) both made powerful arguments in favor of the bill. Among many facts, Read also pointed out the recent loss of the world's last white male Rhino and the need for the bill's immediate implementation.
But the damage had already been done. Following Webb's final comments the House voted to place the bill back in Committee by a vote of 191 to 154. It's highly likely that the bill will lie in limbo and slowly die.
This turn of events adds salt to the wounds from battles we are currently fighting for wildlife, with Ryan Zinke's plans to establish an advisory council with a mission to promote trophy hunting, and the Trump administration's recent reversal of the elephant import ban, now allowing elephant imports on a 'case-by-case basis.' Effective October 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service also began issuing hunt permits for the importation of lion trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe(9); a devastating decision following the death of Cecil the lion and his son.
Every day wildlife rangers dress in camouflage and stand on the front lines in a war against poachers who hack the faces off elephants and rhinos so that they can sell their tusks and horns. 105 rangers were killed worldwide between July 2016 and July 2017, alone. These rangers are sacrificing their lives to protect our worlds most incredible and beloved species, while politicians put on their business suits and sputter some misleading nonsense, likely killing a bill that would merely improve the efficiency of wildlife trafficking laws that are already in place.
While populations of the world's most magnificent species dishearteningly continue to plummet, the funding for terrorist organizations frighteningly continues to rise, as does the lack of acknowledgment of this dire issue by our nation's so-called leadership.
Update 4/26/18: As originally explained in this article, there were no known issues with SB 451 after being amended (to address a concern regarding antiques) and being passed by the House Fish and Game Committee on 3/27/18. Due to the fact that Chairman Webb's reasoning for his motion to recommit the bill back to Committee was not clearly explained on the House floor on April 5th and was seemingly unsubstantiated at that time (as shown in the State House footage and as originally described in this article above), his motion appeared as an attempt to kill the bill. However, the bill was amended and passed again by the House Fish and Game Committee on 4/17/18 (12-1), returning it to the House in time before the Deadline. In light of this information, this article has been updated, including a title change from "NH House Kills Wildlife Trafficking Ban", to "NH House Threatens Wildlife Trafficking Ban". However, it is important to note that the motion to return the bill back to Committee on 4/05/18 was still very likely unnecessary, as the bill could have been amended with a floor amendment, or gone to a Committee of Conference if passed by the House on that date, allowing for amendments to be made during discussion with the Senate. That motion on 4/05/18 could still lead to the death of the bill, if not passed by the full House, whereas it could've very likely passed the House on 4/05/18 if that motion to recommit had not been made. The amendment added to the bill have also greatly weakened it, making the potential passing of the bill less valuable if the Senate concurs. The re-vote by the full House is scheduled for today.