Advisory Council Wants More Money
The Council and NGOs want more government money to advance their cause. While other species were discussed, elephants and ivory kept coming up because they are the most effective fund raisers NGOs have to solicit money from donors and governments.
There were lots of frustrated animal activists at the meeting. They brought sponsors of the New Jersey Ivory Ban to promote state efforts to ban ivory, but it was clear that they were unhappy that no other state level bans have passed. Part of the “ask” for a bigger share of the federal budget is to fund more public relations efforts to link ivory with elephant poaching, which they hope will increase pressure on states. To help justify more money, they are also increasingly exaggerating the link between terrorism and domestically traded legal ivory.
These groups also expressed a lot of frustration at the meeting because USFWS has not yet published its regulation revoking the Special Rule for African Elephants. The FWS representative said he expected a regulation “soon” and that it would contain “de minimis exemptions” for “very small amounts of ivory” that he said would satisfy the legal ivory owners whom the Service has spoken to over the past year.
Unfortunately, the representative did not disclose what those exemptions would be. If they are anything like we have seen come up in state legislation or in FWS guidance to date, then they are unlikely to satisfy anyone.
Much more was discussed at the meeting, and you can download our response to this meeting here: AdvisoryCouncilResponseLetterFor150423Meeting.pdf. The hard work of all of our groups to stop state level ivory bans and force the federal government to carefully evaluate its next steps have been effective at slowing down bad policy.
What this last meeting made clear is the ivory ban has devolved to being all about money. In fact, Council Member David Hayes suggested that the next Advisory Council meeting should be focused on how much more money they want from the government to fund things like more propaganda (so-called demand destruction) and widespread prosecutions.
The only way to fight this is to remain persistent in our efforts to fight against ivory bans on every level. We must continue to educate legislators, show up at hearings, and expose the exaggerations & bad policies that overzealous activists are using to demonize ivory. As expressed in my comments to the Advisory Council, not only will innocent Americans needlessly lose property and cultural treasures, but elephants will be condemned to even greater hostility and threat of extinction if all possibility of economic value to local African communities is stripped away.
To show how bad things could get, New York, which already passed its own ivory ban, is now considering a law that would eliminate ivory exemptions in its ban AND criminalize possession of ivory. This should be a lesson to anyone who thinks they can carve out an exemption to protect themselves at the expense of other ivory owners. That strategy will only lead to weakening the overall effort of legal ivory owners and businesses so the temporarily favored few can be picked off in the future.
New York and New Jersey have already taken steps recently to tighten restrictions on the sale of ivory, and environmental groups say their next target is California.
"We believe that California law needs to be fixed," said Elly Pepper, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group.
"I was in San Francisco walking down the streets and there's a shocking amount of ivory in that city, and the same is true for L.A.," she said. "A state that has such a reputation for protecting animals and wildlife should not have that much ivory on its streets."
California is the second-largest market for ivory in the U.S., after New York, with major hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to a 2008 study from Care for the Wild International, an animal-protection charity.
Although California has strict ivory laws on its books, Pepper said she is working with other groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, to propose legislation that would step up enforcement, increase penalties for violations and close legal loopholes.
Among the loopholes, she said, is a law permitting the sale of ivory imported prior to 1977. Pepper said it is difficult to differentiate between ivory imported before and after 1977. The council also wants to increase the minimum $1,000 fine, which Pepper said is not enough to deter smugglers.
Stricter state laws come amid a surge in elephant poaching that is threatening to drive the animal to extinction. According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, more than 100,000 elephants were killed for ivory from 2010 to 2012. The study says the proportion of illegally killed elephants has jumped from 25% to between 60% and 70% in the last 10 years.
California would be the third state to impose stricter ivory bans since a federal crackdown began in February.
The federal rules include banning all commercial imports of African elephant ivory regardless of age. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of finalizing additional rules that could ban interstate trade of ivory, with some exception for antiques, and limit the number of tusks and ivory that may be brought into the U.S. by sports hunters.
New Jersey expanded upon the federal restrictions by prohibiting the sale, purchase, barter or possession of ivory or rhino horn with limited exceptions for educational items. Antique dealers in New York can no longer sell items that are less than 100 years old and that consist of more than 20% ivory.
Some state lawmakers said the actions taken by the federal government did not go far enough.
"Right now, the federal law has too many exceptions that can easily be circumvented by those who are dealing illegal ivory here in the United States," said New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and primary sponsor of his state's law. "I hope this will be a model for the federal government to tighten up its loopholes."
Stricter federal and state laws have triggered a backlash among antique dealers, musicians and the National Rifle Assn. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made some modifications to accommodate musicians traveling with instruments containing ivory, the effect of the stricter state laws has fueled concerns.
"The NRA is deeply concerned with the Obama administration's anticipated rule and the actions taken by New York and New Jersey to effectively ban the sale and trade of legally owned pre-ban ivory," said Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokesperson. "Consequently, many priceless personal effects will be rendered valueless."
Antique dealers in particular are concerned about stricter state laws.
"I think the conservation groups want every state in the union to pass a law," said Clinton Howell, president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America. "I wish they would take a moment to try to understand that what we are doing has absolutely no impact [on the ivory trade]."
Antique dealers insist there is a clear distinction between old ivory and new ivory, but environmental groups say new ivory often comes into the U.S. under the guise of antique ivory.
"The problem is no one knows what's legal and what's illegal unless you're a true expert," said Gina Kinzley, lead elephant keeper at the Oakland Zoo. "There are actually places that will put a stain on the illegal stuff to make it look antique."
Kinzley expects a backlash if a new bill is introduced in California, which she hopes will occur next year. But she remains optimistic.
"New Jersey was the first state to pass the bill, California will hopefully be the third," she said. "You're seeing the domino effect of state by state passing a moratorium on the ivory trade."