March 20, 2023

Selling moose bones illegal > New law would aid jewelry makers

AUGUSTA — You got your beaver bone. You got your bear bone. You got your bone from the deer that runs loose. But when it comes to making fine jewelry, there’s nothing like the bone from a moose.

That’s the conclusion of Gerald and Valerie Hoff, two Mount Vernon carvers promoting a legislative bill that will add moose bones to the list of salable parts derived from the carcass of Maine’s state animal. The husband-and-wife team are now in New Zealand with a bag of moose bones learning new techniques to transform the skeletal remains into intricately designed objets d’art.

The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has scheduled a public hearing for LD 60, “An Act to Permit the Sale of Moose Bones,” for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Room 109 of the State Office Building in Augusta. Sponsored by Rep. Elaine Fuller, D-Manchester, the legislation is designed to add “bones” to the list of commercially traded animal parts that now includes “head, hide, hooves and antlers.”

“I don’t think there’s any opposition to it,” Fuller said. “Someone said the animal rights people will be out there en masse, but we already sell other parts. We issue permits to kill moose so why shouldn’t they be able to use the bones to make that nice jewelry.”

Lisa Lange, at the Norfolk, Va., headquarters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said poaching is one reason the Legislature should reject the bill. She plans to either send a representative to the hearing or submit written testimony in opposition to the bill.

“From the get-go, we’re against moose hunting, but any time you create a new market for animal parts you’re also increasing the potential for poaching,” she said. “If there’s a market for it, people will risk breaking the law to make money from it. In this case, it would result in more moose killed in Maine than the state currently permits.”

Pendants, pins, brooches, buttons, tie tacks, bolo ties and earrings are among the items that the Hoffs create from moose bone, an idea that they stumbled onto. More accurately, the idea actually stumbled onto them.

“Two years ago we had the opportunity to carve in moose bone which we obtained as a result of an automobile collision with a moose,” the couple said in a letter to the 119th Legislature. “We found it an excellent bone for carving.”

Already experienced in carving beef bone and deer coronets, the Hoffs decided to test customer reaction to the new products. They fashioned identical pieces out of beef and moose bones and offered them for sale. Buyers chose the moose nearly every time.

“The feedback from them indicated that the moose had a more exotic connotation and direct connection to Maine, with its reputation as an outdoorsman’s state,” said the carvers.

The Hoffs were able to obtain large numbers of moose bones from Maine rendering companies that used them for bone phosphate fertilizer. Well on their way to a new line of jewelry, the couple discovered while attending a Blaine House Conference on Small Businesses that they had unknowingly broken Maine laws.

Hoping to ship moose bones to New Zealand, where they spend their winters, the Hoffs asked a supervisor with the Maine Warden Service if they needed any special permits for exporting. He informed them of the state ban against selling products made from moose bones.

“Apparently no commercial value for bones was anticipated when the statute was written,” the couple said, adding that, technically, bone phosphate fertilizer was also an illegal product.

The Hoffs already have some pieces ready for sale, but cannot legally launch their enterprise until the law is amended. Fuller placed an emergency preamble on her bill so it will become law if approved by two-thirds majority of the Legislature and the governor signs it.

“If someone can set up a business that can use those bones to produce an elegant piece of jewelry like they do, I think that’s a better use of the byproduct,” Fuller said.

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