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Oregon bill would ban products made from kangaroos

kangaroo in mid-jump
Suzuha Kozuki
More than a million wild kangaroos are commercially "harvested" in Australia each year.

The lawbook governing the state of Oregon consists of 19 volumes containing 688 chapters. Nowhere in that set of statutes—the product of nearly 164 years of statehood—does the word “kangaroo” appear.

That could change this year.

The Oregon Senate’s Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would create the crime of “unlawful kangaroo exchange.”

Lawmakers on the panel were somewhat bemused during a brief discussion Tuesday.

“If we were to enforce this, would that have to happen in a kangaroo court?” asked Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek.

“I bet we could bounce that (bill) over to the House,” quipped Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

But backers of the proposal are very serious about their efforts to ban the sale of “any part of a dead kangaroo or any product containing a part of a dead kangaroo,” as Senate Bill 764 currently reads.

There’s only type of product made from “dead kangaroos” that’s routinely sold in Oregon, said Scott Beckstead, director of campaigns for the Center for a Humane Economy.

That product is shoes.

Namely, soccer cleats made from kangaroo leather, first popularized in the 1970’s by elite players and now sold by many athletic apparel companies including Oregon-based Nike.

A ban would not be without precedent: California has prohibited the sale of kangaroo-based products for more than 50 years, though the Los Angeles Times reports that lawmakers there temporarily suspended the ban twice at the urging of the Australian government.

“We believe that it’s necessary to finally get a bill passed in Oregon ... so that Nike and other shoe manufacturers don’t have a welcome market for kangaroo skins in the state of Oregon,” said Beckstead.

Nike did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but the company told ESPN last month that it uses kangaroo leather in a “small portion” of its soccer shoes and that it “works with leather suppliers that source animal skins from processors that use sound animal husbandry and humane treatment, whether farmed, domesticated, or wild managed.”

A major industry down under

The commercial harvest of kangaroos in Australia is not only legal but encouraged by the federal government there.

“No adverse long-term impacts on kangaroo populations have been identified after more than 30 years of harvesting under commercial management plans,” the Australia Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water states on its website.

According to the agency, more than 1.3 million kangaroos were commercially harvested in 2021, which it says is less than one-third of what it calls the “sustainable quota,” that is, the amount it says could be killed without putting any of the four main kangaroo species at risk.

The United States listed several types of kangaroo as “endangered” from the mid-70’s until the mid-90’s, but the animal is considered to have “recovered.”

Kangaroos were also not included in a 2016 ballot measure in Oregon known as the “Wildlife Trafficking Prevention Act,” which prohibited the importation and sale of products from a list of animals including elephants, whales and sea turtles.

That measure passed with nearly 70 percent of Oregonians voting in favor of it. Beckstead points to that support as a reason why a ban on the sale of products made from kangaroos should be approved by state lawmakers.

“We believe that it aligns with the history of humane values among most Oregonians that we should not be allowing the sale of products, and supporting this mass slaughter of kangaroos in Australia,” he said.

Violators of the Oregon bill could be charged with a misdemeanor and spend up to a year in jail or face a $6,250 fine.

The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing. A similar proposal was introduced this month by a state representative in Connecticut. A federal ban on kangaroo products was proposed in the U.S. House in 2021, but was not approved.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”