Published: July 29, 2015
NAIROBI, KENYA (From AP and other sources) — President Barack Obama moved on July 25 to tighten US rules on sales of ivory from African elephants, aiming to show progress on conservation as he began a trip to the region.
Obama, in a joint news conference with Kenya’s president in Nairobi, said the restrictions will eliminate the market for illegal ivory in the United States.
“I can announce that we’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said.
The proposed US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulation, FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091, would prohibit the sale across state lines of ivory from African elephants and further restrict commercial exports. But it provides limited exceptions for interstate sales, namely pre-existing musical instruments, furniture pieces and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory.
The 95-page ruling also provides an ability for Americans to sell ivory across state lines if it meets the strict criteria of the antiques exemption listed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The act identifies an antique as an item that is 100 years or older, that is partly or entirely composed of a species listed under the act, and that has not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973. It also must have been imported through one of 13 specific antiques ports within the United States.
Widely anticipated, the rule follows other restrictions Obama put in place last year aimed at choking the marketplace for poachers who have decimated African elephant populations and threatened their extinction. An estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.
“We want to ensure our nation is not contributing to the scourge of poaching that is decimating elephant populations across Africa,” said Dan Ashe, director of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
In a conference call on July 27, director Ashe and Craig Hoover, the service’s chief of the wildlife and conservation branch, laid out some of the key points in the ruling, with Ashe concluding, “It is our intention to enact a near complete ban on ivory trade.”
In Congress, some House lawmakers hope to prevent the proposed rule from being enacted. The National Rifle Association has warned the rule could ban the sale of many firearms with ivory inlays.
The antiques trade is wary as well. Said Martin Levy, a UK-based specialist, “The FWS ‘rule’ will include welcome concessions for musical instruments, and addresses the issue of people who happen to possess inherited ivory. But meanwhile, while properly documented ivory can in theory be moved across state lines, this will also still be subject to the restrictions introduced by individual legislatures. There are indeed some positive amendments, but these represent little more than pyrrhic victories in the light of the ban on the free [and CITES-documented] to and fro of international trade.”
There are now 60 days to comment before a final and binding rule is issued, and FWS invites participation in this process. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods: electronic submissions may be made via the portal www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter “FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091, which is the docket number for the rulemaking. Submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Hard copy comments may be delivered by US mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091; Division of Policy, Performance and Management Programs; US Fish and Wildlife Service; 5275 Leesburg Pike; MS:BPHC; Falls Church VA 22041. For information, contact Hoover at 703-358-2093.
Said Levy, “Everyone should encourage the bureaucrats to take a close look, for example, at the specific amendments proposed African Elephant Conservation and Legal Ivory Possession Act of 2015. There is still room and time for common sense to take hold.”
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