In a supposed attempt to preserve African elephants, the Obama administration has begun a series of arbitrary decrees that will destroy the value of property held by countless gun owners, art collectors, musicians and others. The Lawful Ivory Protection Act of 2014 (S. 2587 by Sen. Alexander and H.R. 5052 by Reps. Daines and Miller) will call a halt to this process and allow the United States to consider more reasonable and effective approaches.
For decades, the United States has generally banned the commercial importation of African elephant ivory other than antique items more than 100 years old; it also bans the commercial export of all raw ivory and strictly regulates export of worked ivory. However, legally imported ivory may be sold within the U.S. because the Fish and Wildlife Service has long presumed that most ivory in the U.S. was legally imported and that its sale in the U.S. would not increase poaching. As recently as 2012, the FWS said, “[W]e do not believe that there is a significant illegal ivory trade into this country.”
In a drastic change, on February 11, 2014, the Obama administration announced a proposal to ban all U.S. commercial trade in elephant ivory. Shortly after, the administration began announcing steps toward that ban, including:
- A February 25 Fish and Wildlife Service “Director’s Order” broadening the 1989 moratorium on commercial ivory importation to include many previously importable antiques, in part by imposing new and burdensome requirements on importers, exporters and sellers to prove that their ivory is more than 100 years old.
- A May 27 final rule that amends implementing regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and purports to apply those regulations to lawful domestic trade, which is outside the scope of the treaty.
- A yet-unpublished proposed rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will revoke current allowances for domestic sale of lawfully imported elephant ivory.
These actions and proposals will do nothing to protect elephants in Africa and Asia, but will make sellers of legal ivory potential criminals overnight. The effects will be far-reaching, since ivory is used for both decorative and functional purposes in items such as firearms, knives, furniture, jewelry, art, and musical instruments. If implemented, the ban would effectively make these items valueless for their owners.
The Lawful Ivory Protection Act would address this problem by limiting the administration’s rulemaking authority under the Endangered Species Act. Under the bill, no ESA enforcement regulations, orders, policies, or practices could prohibit or restrict domestic commerce in lawfully imported ivory. The bill would also return the rules on importation and possession of lawful ivory to those that were in effect before the February 25 FWS order. These changes are essential to block administrative overreaching and support effective wildlife conservation efforts.