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.

Nearly $6 Million And Counting For Washington Fall Ballot Measures

Washington’s November election will decide three statewide ballot measures.Credit immortalpoet / Flickr

Washington’s November election will decide three statewide ballot measures.
Credit immortalpoet / Flickr

By: Austin Jenkins, NW News Network


Washington’s November election will decide three statewide ballot measures. So far, nearly $6 million has flowed to these campaigns. And it’s still early.

Initiative 594 to expand background checks for gun sales is far out in the lead when it comes to fundraising. So far, nearly $3.4 million raised with recent half-million-dollar contributions each from Paul Allen, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Plus, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer just ponied up $1 million.

Number two in the fundraising race is Initiative 1351 to reduce class sizes. It has raised $1.5 million mostly from the Washington Education Association.

In third place is Initiative 591. This is the dueling background check measure funded by pro-gun groups. So far they’ve raised just over $1 million.

By Washington ballot measure standards these are still modest numbers. Last year, the battle over GMO-labeling drew more than $40 million in spending.

Paul Allen gives $7.5 million to young scientists with big ideas

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen awarded $7.5 million to early-career scientists engaged in cutting-edge research at the cellular level. The grants are aimed at research projects that are too risky to get funding elsewhere.

By Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times

Suckjoon Jun was talking with students when the phone rang, so he cut off the call. The phone rang again. On the third try, Jun, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Diego, picked up the receiver and found Paul Allen’s Seattle foundation on the line.

“I was absolutely astonished,” said Jun, who discovered he would be receiving a $1.6 million grant from the billionaire Microsoft co-founder.

When he applied for funding under the Allen Distinguished Investigators program, Jun figured he was a longshot. The previous winners were mostly seasoned veterans in biomedical research, and he was just starting his career.

But Allen and his foundation have revamped the initiative this year to focus on young scientists with big ideas. Of the five new research projects announced Thursday that will share in a total of $7.5 million, not one is led by tenured professors.

The goal is to provide a career boost for scientists with the potential to make major discoveries, Allen said in a statement.

“I’ve always been drawn to the big open questions of science,” he said. “But the pioneering scientists working to answer them can’t promise quick discoveries and often find it difficult to get funding from traditional sources.”

In addition to Jun, the grant winners are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC-San Francisco, Stanford and Yale.

Jun will use his grant to study the way cells sense their own size and decide when to divide. “It sounds pretty simple, but we have no clue,” he said.

The research is still at a basic stage, but eventually may help explain the runaway cell replication that leads to cancer, Jun added.

Allen launched his distinguished-investigator program in 2010, the same year he pledged to give away the bulk of his estimated $15 billion fortune.

The program is small compared with Allen’s $500 million investment in the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science, his biggest philanthropic endeavor. Allen also has helped fund a telescope to search for extraterrestrial life and backed the development of a private spaceship.

The distinguished-investigator grants for 2013 all focus on fundamental explorations of cells and their properties, said Susan Coliton, the foundation’s vice president. “Breakthrough science was the key thing for us.”

Markus Covert, of Stanford University, will get $1.5 million over three years to build on his pioneering computer model that replicates the inner workings of a cell.

The main reason cures for cancer and many other diseases remain so elusive is their complexity, Covert said. “Cancer is not a one-gene problem, it’s hundreds of genes, it’s the environment and all kinds of other factors.”

Working with cells in silica, researchers may be able to tease apart those interactions and design new drugs or even engineer bacteria to do useful things, like produce biofuels.

The Allen grant will allow Covert and his colleagues to expand their model from the simplest bacteria to more complicated cells.

And there’s a good chance it won’t come out the way he envisions.

“What I work on tends to be high-risk, high-reward stuff,” Covert said. So it’s particularly gratifying to be recognized by Allen, whose early computer work fit the same mold.

“Here’s somebody who knows what it’s like to be right at the cutting edge and change the world,” Covert said. “So if he thinks it’s worth a shot, that makes me feel great.”