Editorial: Support initiative to help endangered species

The trade in such things as rhino horns and elephant tusks won’t end if Oregonians approve a ballot measure this fall that would largely outlaw the practice. That said, a state ban on sales could make it more difficult, and that in itself is a good thing.

Two Oregon politicians, former state representative and senator Bruce Starr, a Hillsboro Republican, and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat, are chief sponsors of the measure, which would prohibit trade in parts of everything from rhinos and elephants to whales.

The measure was carefully crafted to assure that your grandmother’s piano, with its part-ivory keys, or your grandfather’s antique ivory-handled pistol do not suddenly become contraband. It would allow for the transfer of some items through inheritance or donation, or to educational or scientific institutions, and it would not affect the rights of Native American tribes in the state.

It would, however, make it illegal to purchase or sell a newer item of ivory. The measure would turn enforcement over to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and would make violations subject to fines of up to $6,500 or two times the value of the contraband, whichever is greater.

Starr and other supporters note both California and Washington already have similar bans in place. That, they argue, makes Oregon ports prime targets for potential smugglers trying to sneak their wares into the western United States. And that, they say, simply encourages the killing of critically endangered species in Asia and Africa.

The measure covers a dozen species in all, including several big cats, sea turtles and rays. While some are valued for their hides, tusks or horns, others — sharks and rays —are more likely to end up on someone’s dinner table. Still others are purported to have medicinal value.

Making trafficking in these animals and their parts illegal in Oregon won’t solve their problems, unfortunately. But it will help. And for such creatures as the Amur Leopard, of which only about 40 remain, any help is good.