A sloppy spring snowstorm didn’t deter Shelburne students from visiting the Vermont State House last week to speak out on behalf of legislation to protect endangered animals from illegal hunting and trafficking.
Friday was an in-service day at Shelburne Community School and a handful of third- and fourth-graders had parents drive them to Montpelier to meet with committees in both the House and Senate.
The students also delivered 180 prints handmade by second- and third-graders, one for each lawmaker under the golden dome. The images depicted animals listed in bills H.99 and S.29.
The identical bills under consideration in each chamber call for a ban in Vermont on the sale of items made with parts from 14 threatened and endangered animals that are poached and trafficked around the world.
The students spoke before the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs first.
“Elephants are dying at a rate of nearly 100 per day,” said fourth-grader Sara DiGuglielmo. “Vermonters must stand with other states and do our part to protect endangered animals by passing S.29 and H.99.” .
In third grade, Sara learned about the plight of elephants that are hunted for their tusks. This year she has rallied support in her school for legislation that would ban ivory from being bought and sold in Vermont.
Third-grader Jasmeet Badwal told lawmakers how his class collected money to adopt an orphaned elephant on a reserve in Africa.
“If we can do something, we ask you to do something,” he said to the Senate committee.
The bills also specify other creatures that would be banned from trade in the state: cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus, jaguar, leopard, lion, pangolin, ray, rhinoceros, sea turtle, shark, tiger, and whale.
“We believe that kids have a voice,” fourth-grader Anna Tanis told senators. “We hope to see these amazing animals in our future and it starts by protecting them today.”
Such legislation has come before the Vermont Legislature in the past few years, initially aimed at ivory sales alone. It has previously failed to win passage, although Shelburne animal-rights activist Ashley Prout McAvey is optimistic this year.
McAvey’s volunteer group Vermont For Wildlife (formerly Ivory Free Vermont) is urging lawmakers to make Vermont the 10th state to establish such a ban.
She credited the students’ efforts with helping get the attention of the legislative committees to hear their testimony.
Lawmakers admired the prints made by the second- and third-graders, asked questions, and explained the legislative process.
“A picture’s worth a thousand words. This reminds me of Babar,” said committee Vice Chair Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, holding an elephant print and referencing the character in the classic French children’s books. Clarkson is also one of the bill’s sponsors.
McAvey also testified to the committees holding a small carved ivory piece that once belonged to her grandmother. She explained that the bill would allow her to own the antique, but that selling such items supports the commercial demand for ivory.
“The demand is met by continued slaughter,” she said. “These animals will be wiped off the planet.”
She elaborated by sharing an internet photo of a pistol with a handle inlaid with giraffe bone. She pointed out that the public is largely unaware that such products are for sale.
“Now, in Vermont, I can legally buy and sell rhino horn,” she added.
In the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, legislators leaned forward in their seats, attentively listening as each child spoke briefly.
Sara, Anna and Jasmeet concluded, saying in unison: “We ask you as adults, will you stand with us?”
“I want you to know how brave I perceive you to be to come here today,” said Williston Rep. Jim McCullough, a Democrat and a bill sponsor.
Rep. Carol Ode, D-Burlington, nodded in agreement saying: “I hope some or all of you will run for office someday.”
The group also included several students from Stowe where interest in the bills was sparked by high school student Taegen Yardley, formerly of Shelburne and a past advocate for ivory-ban legislation.
After their testimony, the youngsters observed the full House in session, standing to be recognized when Shelburne Rep. Jessica Brumsted introduced them.
They also visited Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman’s office where he shared muffins from his morning “Coffee with Constituents” session and discussed the wildlife bill with the youngsters.
Neither committee has taken a vote on the bill yet.