House Votes to Protect Elephants and Rhinos | Off Message

House Votes to Protect Elephants and Rhinos


Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) explains a bill that would protect endangered international wildlife. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) explains a bill that would protect endangered international wildlife.
The House gave a loud voice vote of support Thursday to a bill that would ban the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Federal law already restricts the interstate sale of both raw and altered ivory and horn. The House measure would make Vermont the fifth state to prohibit in-state sales.

"If you care about Vermont's wildlife, you need to care about other wildlife, too," Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) told her House colleagues. "Imagine your most favored species in Vermont," she said. "Imagine that criminals were coming to Vermont and slaughtering that creature."

Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) had told lawmakers that elephants and rhinos were threatened and endangered species in large part because of a "well-organized world trade for ivory." He added, "And you don't get ivory like you get wool off of a sheep."

Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) introduced the bill a year ago after he became acquainted with a Shelburne woman promoting the ban. They became friends, sharing with each other their respective experiences of losing a beloved golden retriever. Based of his friend's advocacy, Wright decided Vermont should join this movement to try to save elephants and rhinos from the torture and killing required to take their tusks.

Wright usually worries about the effects of state actions on businesses, but he said the House Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources Committee's version of the bill accommodates most business concerns.

Rep. Harvey Smith (R-New Haven) wasn't so sure businesses would be unharmed. He asked how the ban would effect his friend who works on pianos.

McCullough said the bill would allow sales of items with fewer than 200 grams of ivory, which mirrors the federal restriction. That weight was picked to accommodate piano keys, McCullough said. He added that piano keys haven't been made of ivory for more than three decades.

Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) worried about the effect the ban might have on antique dealers.

McCullough said the committee delayed the start date of the ban until 2018 "to give Vermonters this extended opportunity to offload their ivory."

Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) said he had been lobbied hard to support the ban — by his daughter's pre-school class. He said that when he drops off his child, her classmates keep asking him if he has saved the elephants yet. "I want to go to them tomorrow and say 'yes'," he told his House colleagues.

He will be able to say the bill received preliminary approval, with the final vote expected Friday. The bill still needs review and approval by the Senate and the governor before Pearson and the pre-schoolers can declare victory.