Billionaire Paul Allen Backs Initiative To Punish Wildlife Traffickers

Ken Goddard holds an elephant tusk, one of 72 the lab recieved in a poaching investigation. The case has gone cold.Amelia Templeton
Ken Goddard holds an elephant tusk, one of 72 the lab recieved in a poaching investigation. The case has gone cold.
Amelia Templeton


By Courtney Flatt, NPR

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen is financing a campaign that could ask Washington voters  to impose penalties for selling animal parts from certain endangered species.

The proposed ballot measure aims to protect 10 keystone species: elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles, sharks, and rays.

Conservation groups say they are among the most trafficked or poached species worldwide. They say illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, delivering ill-gotten profits of $20 billion annually.

Sandeep Kaushik is a political consultant for the initiative. He said  it would place in state law tough penalties beyond those imposed by federal anti-trafficking laws. People caught buying or selling animal parts or products from the 10 species covered by the proposed law would face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Backers of the initiative say the best way to protect these endangered animals is to cut off the market where poachers can profit.

“The problem has been getting worse and we’re seeing just in the last few years more species being put at risk,” Kaushik said.

Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, said this initiative would help reduce wildlife trafficking in Washington state. He said right now it’s hard to police trafficking once items cross into the U.S.

“In a state like Washington where it is such an important port for materials coming in from Asia, it’s really quite critical that our state agents have the ability to apprehend the ivory,” Wasser said. “Much of the laws now refer to ivory passing across international borders, but state borders — there’s nothing.”

Wasser said the U.S. is one of the largest markets for wildlife products in the world.

“One of the biggest things is trying to deal with the demand side,” Wasser said. “It’s very, very important to have steps all along the way to have steps to increase the consequences if you’re caught and to make it harder for you to get the product in the first place.”

Allen co-founded Microsoft. His conservation philanthropy has been brought into question in 2013 when a investigation and lawsuits said his sister, Jody Allen, made employees help her smuggle giraffe bones and ivory out of Africa.

More recently, a bill in the Washington Legislature to increase trafficking penalties for ivory and rhino horns was met with pushback from the National Rifle Association, the Seattle Symphony, and antique collectors, according to The Seattle Times, which reported Sunday on the initiative proposal.

The measure’s backers say they’ve written the initiative to protect trade for antiquities and estate sales, musical instruments, and scientific and research purposes.

“We made sure that this was about targeting those people that are really a part of this international poaching and trafficking problem that is really putting all of these animals at risk,” Kaushik said.

The Humane Society of the United States, the Seattle Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo have also endorsed the initiative.

Kosher said New York and New Jersey have also recently implemented similar laws, which have helped curtail ivory and rhino horn trafficking.

Petitioners for the initiative must gather 246,372 valid signatures by July 2 for it to qualify for the November ballot.

Controversial Olympic Peninsula Timber Sale Pits Environment Against Education

The marbled murrelet, a federally protected seabird that nests in the coastal forests of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The marbled murrelet, a federally protected seabird that nests in the coastal forests of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — The Washington Board of Natural Resources voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the sale of 200 acres of the Olympic Peninsula that are home to the threatened marbled murrelet. The money from the timber sale will go to the University of Washington.

200 acres might not seem like that big of a deal, but not if you ask Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center.

“These 200 acres are extremely important,” he said. “These lands around these timber sales are heavily used and officially mapped as occupied by the marbled murrelet.”

Goldman was referring to a rare seabird whose numbers have plummetted to the point that it’s listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It nests in old-growth coastal forests of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and California.

Goldman is working with several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Seattle Audubon Society, and Olympic Forest Coalition, who oppose the timber sale because it will mean clearcutting in murrelet habitat. The tracts are known as the “Goodmint” and “Rainbow Rock” timber sales, and are located on the western part of the Olympic Peninsula.

There are roughly 2,000 murrelets left in Washington and the population has been declining by up to 8 percent each year over the past decade. The birds can fly upwards of 50 miles to forage the ocean for food. For timber cutters and marbled murrelet alike, coastal forests on the Olympic Peninsula are highly desirable, and harder to come by.

Last year the University of Washington received $1.35 million from timber sales on state lands, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

“So the question,” Goldman says, “is whether the University of Washington is really saying they want to log the last remaining habitat for the marbled murrelet for approximately $600,000.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the University of Washington said: “This is the Department of Natural Resource’s decision. Some people may disagree but it is their call.”

Tom DeLuca, the director of the University of Washington’s school of Environmental and Forest Sciences, is the vice chairman of the state Board of Natural Resources, which makes decisions about timber sales. DeLuca did not vote on this particular sale and did not respond to requests for an interview.

Peter Goldmark (not Goldman) is the chairman of that board, and the commissioner of public lands for the state of Washington.

“The opponents make an emotional issue that these are the last acres available when in fact they’re not,” Commissioner Goldmark said.

These 200 acres may not be the last remaining marbled murrelet habitat but they’re part of it.

In a report released in 2008, the Department of Natural Resources identified key habitat that should be protected for marbled murrelet throughout the state. The 200 acres that are now up for sale were included in that report.

When asked about the report, Goldmark downplayed the findings.

“This is a science team report only,” he said. “It’s not proposed as a plan because, first and foremost, our major responsibility is a fiduciary interest to supply revenue for the trust beneficiaries.”

Goldmark added that the DNR has refrained from logging on thousands of acres elsewhere in the area, at a significant cost to those “trust beneficiaries” — like the University of Washington, Washington State University and public schools throughout the state, which received almost $175 millionfrom timber sales last year.

The 200 acres will be put up for sale in April. Environmental groups have indicated they will to file a lawsuit in the next 30 days.

Group: Protect Orcas In West Coast Waters

Credit AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice EmmonsFILE - In this file photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and shot Oct. 29, 2013, orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle.
Credit AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons
FILE – In this file photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and shot Oct. 29, 2013, orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle.

Jan 16 2014

By The Associated Press

A conservation group is asking federal officials to protect endangered killer whales in the marine waters off the West Coast.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat for orcas along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California.

The southern resident killer whales are frequently seen in Puget Sound during the summer, but little was known about their winter movements until recently.

Federal biologists have tracked the orcas as they traveled extensively along the coast, from Cape Flattery, Wash. to Point Reyes, Calif.

The group says those offshore areas should now be added as critical habitat. Such a designation would require federal officials to limit activities that harm the whales.

A message left with the federal agency was not immediately returned.

Endangered Species Act: a 40-year fight to save animals

Photo courtesy Howard Garrett / Orca Network, JuneMembers of L pod, one of the Salish Sea's resident orca pods, heads north up Boundary Pass to Georgia Strait.
Photo courtesy Howard Garrett / Orca Network, June
Members of L pod, one of the Salish Sea’s resident orca pods, heads north up Boundary Pass to Georgia Strait.

By Bill Sheets, The Herald

Forty years after the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act, the state and Snohomish County remain squarely on the edge of that preservation frontier.

More than 40 animal species in Washington are listed by the federal government as either endangered or threatened under the law, signed by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973. Many others are listed as species of concern.

Among creatures found in waters in and around Snohomish and Island counties, seven species of fish or marine mammals are listed under the act.

Southern resident killer whales and bocaccio rockfish are listed as endangered. Puget Sound chinook salmon, Puget Sound steelhead, bull trout, yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish and Pacific smelt are threatened.

Nationwide, 645 species of animals and 872 plants or trees native to the U.S. are listed as threatened or endangered, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of the local fish species and orcas, salmon and bull trout were listed in 1999, the killer whales in 2005 and the other fish species in 2010.

Reasons cited for the decline of the fish are many, including pollution, overfishing and loss of habitat. In the case of killer whales, dwindling supply of their diet staple — chinook salmon — is a major contributing factor, officials say.

Supporters claim many success stories for the Endangered Species Act, with bald eagles and peregrine falcons among the more prominent examples.

Gray whales were taken off the list in 1994 and steller sea lions just this year.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 99 percent of the hundreds of species listed since the Endangered Species Act became law have been prevented from going extinct.

The law protects species by preventing them from being harmed or captured and by regulating human activity in their habitat areas.

Perhaps the best feature of the Endangered Species Act, some say, is that it keeps the species’ problems in the public spotlight.

“It has pulled people together to talk about what to do,” said Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes.

Recovery for many species, however, is slow and not guaranteed.

“Listing is a way of sort of planning for recovery, if you will,” said Brent Norberg, a marine mammal biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.

The southern resident orca population, for example, had 88 whales in 2004, the year before it was listed under the ESA. The population now is down to 80, according to the Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based group that tracks the whales.

“Because they’re so long-lived and their recruitment is so slow and their numbers are so small, it’s going to be quite a lengthy process,” Norberg said.

William Ruckleshaus, the first director of the Environmental Protection Agency under Nixon in the early 1970s, is 81 and lives in Medina.

The EPA was created and Endangered Species Act was passed after pollution and declines in species had reached alarming levels, Ruckleshaus said. The Cuyahoga River in northeast Ohio, for example, famously caught fire in 1969.

“The public demanded something be done about it and the president responded,” he said.

He said the endangered species law might have overreached.

“We passed laws that promised levels of perfection that probably weren’t possible. It’s hard to do it, to be honest with you,” Ruckleshaus said. The law has been refined over time, he said.

Ruckleshaus works part-time for Madrona Venture Group, a venture capital firm, and has served on the boards of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

“The motivation behind the ESA couldn’t have been any higher — we want to preserve all living things on Earth. Who’s against that?” Ruckleshaus said.

“I think it’s been very positive overall,” he said. “It’s shown how what we believe to be innocent acts can have devastating effects on species.”

The Endangered Species Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, has issued a report titled “Back from the Brink: Ten Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40.”

Among those stories is perhaps the most high-profile recovery: the national symbol, the bald eagle.

The eagle’s numbers in the 48 contiguous states declined from roughly 100,000 in the early 19th century to only 487 nesting pairs in 1963, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website.

Several measures were taken to help the eagle, beginning with the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it illegal to kill an eagle. The pesticide DDT, found to have thinned the eggshells of eagles and other birds, was banned in 1972.

Still, “listing the species as endangered provided the springboard” for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accelerate recovery through captive breeding, law enforcement and nest-site protection, according to the agency’s website

Bald eagles rebounded and they now number about 10,000. The eagles were taken off the list in 2007.

The Endangered Species Act’s effect on salmon is not so clear, the Tulalips say.

Development that destroys habitat is not restricted enough to offset the losses, Williams said.

“We’re still losing habitat faster than we’re gaining it from restoration,” he said.

The problem is inconsistency in rules among various agencies involved in environmental protection, said Terry Williams, fisheries and natural resources commissioner for the tribes.

Also, because of the ESA, some habitat restoration projects have to jump through the same hoops as other construction, causing delays in measures that could help fish, Daryl Williams said.

“I kind of have mixed feelings about it,” he said.

Those restrictions may be a necessary evil, said Norberg, of the fisheries service.

For example, if creosote-soaked logs are being removed from a waterway, if it’s not done properly, it could result in creosote finding its way back into the water, “so it does as much harm as it does good,” he said.

Restrictions also can affect landowners’ use of their property. This not only angers some property owners but can defeat the intent of the law, said Todd Myers, environmental director for the Washington Policy Center, a right-leaning think tank in Seattle.

Because the law governs use of land where a listed species is found, some landowners take steps to eliminate habitat for a species on their property so it won’t be seen there, Myers said.

“You get a regulatory stick that puts landowners at odds with habitat recovery,” he said.

A better way, he said, is to reimburse landowners for measures taken to preserve or promote habitat, he said.

“That at least takes a step toward making a landowner a partner as opposed to an opponent.”

Despite the ESA’s flaws, “it is working well in terms of bringing all the various parties together to talk and to plan accordingly,” Norberg said.

The decline of the salmon might not be reversed without it, Ruckelshaus said.

“It is an extraordinarily complex problem,” he said. “But for the ESA I doubt we would have paid the attention to it we have, and I think that is absolutely necessary for it to recover.”


New Hope For An Endangered Deer

Source: Northwest Public Radio

Washington’s Columbian white-tailed deer have struggled to survive. In fact, their population fell so much they were once thought to be extinct.

Years ago, development claimed much of the Columbian white-tailed deer’s historical habitat. Most recently, a damaged dike threatened to burst and destroy one of their remaining refuges. (The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer was established specifically to protect the species.)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relocated 37 deer to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge 60 miles away and brimming with prime habitat.

Now, those efforts are paying off.

In its five-year review of the deer, the service is recommending the Columbian white-tailed deer be downgraded from an endangered species to a threatened one.

That’s one step closer – in a long series of steps – to removing the deer from the endangered species list. However, the recommendation is only that, a recommendation, which is not always taken.

But biologists are pretty confident that the Columbian white-tailed deer will one day be fully recovered.

“Finally after 40 years, with this particular population segment in the Columbia River, we really are on the right track. Things are going to move quickly from here,” said Rebecca Toland, a wildlife biologist with the service.

Ten years ago, the service removed another Columbian white-tailed deer population in Oregon from the endangered species list. Biologists say that shows, given the right conditions, the Columbian white-tailed deer can make their way off the list.

“There’s a precedence for recovering and reclassifying and, ultimately, delisting under the endangered species act. But particularly for this species. There is a track record of the service doing that when warranted,” said Chris Allen, fisheries biologist with the service.

If Washington’s population is downgraded to a threatened species, the doors are opened up for more biologists and wildlife managers to work to protect the deer. Under federal law, there are many research restrictions when a species is classified as endangered. The threatened classification loosens those restrictions.

The service had several specific goals for the Columbian white-tailed deer to meet:

  • A minimum of 400 deer across the Columbia River population;
  • Three groups of at least 50 deer living in three different locations;
  • Two of those three groups had to be on protected, secure habitat.

Now, Toland said, biologists can put a check mark next to each of those items.

After biologists moved deer away from the eroding dike in southwestern Washington, the new Ridgefield population has begun to flourish, Toland said. Biologists have spotted two fawns at the refuge.

“They’re taking to the habitat,” Toland said. “It’s supporting them, and they’re finding enough cover and forage, and the things that they need in their new home. It’s always a challenge moving species to a completely new environment that they’re not familiar with.”

The dike near the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge is also being repaired. A one-mile setback dike was built this fall to prevent the refuge from flooding if the dike were to burst. Parts of the old dike will be removed next year, which will restore tidal connection and fish access to the refuge.

The service will likely decide whether to accept this recommendation in 2014. If the downgrade is officially proposed the public will then be able to comment.