Ivory Ban Update: Report on ACWT Meeting 3/20/2014

Robert Mitchell, an attorney from Pennsylvania, attended the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking meeting held yesterday, March 20, 2014. Rob delivered Knife Rights’ statement (Click to read) to the Council. He reports below on the meeting’s low and high points. For an opening salvo, to make a statement and get opposition to the ivory ban on the record, this showing was a success. However, it was just that, an opening salvo. We are in for a long, hard fight, but opposition to these draconian and unlawful actions is growing and getting organized. Your support is opposing this ban will be key to getting Congress on board against these draconian measures that only penalize honest Americans and do nothing to save elephants.

Before I hit the road, I want to share with you what happened yesterday at the meeting. I’ll provide more details when I get back, but here are the high points:

The Bad News

  1. Special interest groups are already lobbying Congress to rush changes to the law that will create SEVERE penalties for anyone involved with wildlife trafficking, which will include Domestic Ivory Trade under current proposals. They want to make trading ivory punishable under RICO, Federal Money Laundering statutes, and the Travel Act. These statutes would make violations of the law easier for federal authorities to prove, and the Advisory Council is arguing for increasing penalties to felonies with 5 year prison sentences. They are also pursuing new restitution laws that will allow the government to “disgorge profits from ivory traders” and “return the money to the state or country of origin.” Where no state or country can be identified, they want to create a new slush fund to use to enhance enforcement and conservation efforts.
  2. They are working hard to build Congressional support to push these changes through. Sen Diane Feinstein is leading the charge in the Senate. They are looking for a member of the House to lead the effort. When talking to Congressional members, they are focusing on capturing Chinese kingpins in the poached ivory trade, so members of Congress have no idea that these laws could be used against US citizens who currently and have always abided by the law working with pre-ban ivory.
  3. Although they say their focus is on “5 or 7 Kingpins in China”, they repeatedly said the United States needs to lead the way with enforcement of a Domestic Ivory Ban to be a model for the rest of the world to emulate. They know the real problems with illicit trade in poached ivory are in Asia, but they are frustrated by their inability to do much about it in foreign countries. They expressed dismay over what they characterized in the United States as the lowest number of prosecutions in wildlife trafficking in the world, and concern that typical US prison sentences were only 2 months of incarceration. The enforcement advocates clearly want more money and manpower to prosecute many more people in the US to drive up their statistics to “impress other countries.” Since there is no poaching taking place in the US and USFWS has been effective at keeping poached ivory out of our country, who do you think they will go after?
  4. The Advisory Council is advocating for measures to reduce demand for ivory worldwide and “change people’s behavior” through advertising campaigns and enlisting Hollywood celebrities. They compared what is currently legal ivory trade to smoking and illegal drug trades (repeatedly).
  5. The Advisory Council is also advocating for public/private partnerships with corporations and non-governmental organizations to help inform them what can be done to fight wildlife trafficking, which would include domestic ivory trade if they get their way. They talked about eBay, Coke, Pepsi and other companies that they’d like to see help them. AT NO TIME DID THEY TALK ABOUT PARTNERING WITH ANYONE WHO DEALS WITH LEGAL IVORY IN THE US, AND IT IS CLEAR THEY HAVE MADE NO EFFORT TO REACH OUT TO LEGAL USERS OF IVORY TO SOLICIT THEIR INPUT.

The Good News

  1. The Advisory Council was largely ignorant about the legal use of domestic ivory, and they expressed surprise and concern about the number of people who wrote in expressing concern leading up to this meeting. Clearly, they see serious potential political problems if the legal ivory trade organizes to oppose this ban. I challenged them directly on their failure to include people who deal with legal ivory in their deliberations and proposals
  2. There were about 25 people who came out to comment about the Ivory Ban, and about half spoke eloquently about reasons to oppose or soften the ban. Representatives of musical instrument dealers, orchestras, auctioneers, antique collectors, knife dealers and scrimshaw artists stood up and told the Council the Draconian impact that the ban would have on their lives without saving a single African elephant. The Council was clearly attentive and concerned about their comments. There were also animal rights activists who made comments, some of which were quite extreme (i.e. elephants are “more evolved than humans” and “all ivory comes from poached elephants”). The Activist’s comments spoke for themselves and added nothing new to the discussion.
  3. Scrimshaw Artist Sandra Brady’s comments stood out from the others. Sandra captured how the current legal system has failed to prevent poaching and the futility of a domestic ban on that objective. She also did a great job personalizing the devastating impact on small businesses and the lives of artists, artisans and collectors who have always complied with the law and who share the goal of ending the slaughter of poached elephants.

Bottom Line – we haven’t stopped the Domestic Ivory Ban freight train, but we may have slowed it down. By the end of the meeting, Advisory Council members acknowledged that the Domestic Ivory Ban posed genuine problems and political challenges. They noted that everyone agreed on measures they want to take to stop illegal poaching (prosecuting poachers and traffickers of poached ivory), and but for the Domestic Ivory Ban their proposals would not be controversial.

The timing of new rules is not yet clear. There will be something published in the next few weeks addressing CITES that possibly could include revocation of an existing special rule under the Environmental Species Act. This could set up a legal framework prohibiting interstate trade of ivory. They said to expect a 30 day comment period on that rule.

The “final rule” should come out in June, after which there will be a comment period. We specifically asked that these rules not be issued as “interim final rules” which would go into effect immediately, and instead asked that any rules published be subject to comment before they can be enforced. I think we have a good chance of getting this because of the wide ranging concerns raised, but nothing is guaranteed.

      — Robert Mitchell

Call or Write Today! Now is the time to start making your views heard.

Call your Congressman and Senators TODAY!

Activist groups are already lobbying Congressmen heavily, and they are totally misrepresenting what the regulations and legal changes will do to you. You need to inform them about what the proposed changes in the law will do to you, your collections, your businesses, and your families. The message is simple – We all want to stop elephant poaching, but these laws punish innocent Americans, not elephant poachers or illegal traders in Asia. CALL COGRESS at 1-202-224-3121 and ask them to oppose the Ivory Ban. Locate your Congressman at:

Email and Call the White House at 1-202-456-1111 and Email and Call the Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-344-9453, to let them know you oppose this ban on sale and trade of legally owned ivory.

Call your trade organizations and make sure they are representing your interest in this matter. Groups like the NRA, AARP, collectors associations, professional associations, knife clubs, gun clubs, industry lobbying groups – all of them need to hear from you and be educated about the severity of this threat. These calls have a multiplier effect when they lead back to law makers, and they are starting to get people’s attention!

Spread the word on social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, e-mail lists, internet forums, and all the ways you communicate people to spread the word about what the government is doing and why the Domestic Ivory Ban is a very bad idea.

When you all or write, PLEASE BE POLITE. The more personalized it is, the more impact it has. Just copying the points below is better than nothing, but it is far better to put it into your own words and emphasize your own situation, how it effects you, and your personal point of view.

The points to emphasize:

  • While you strongly support conservation efforts, this will likely result in an increase in elephant poaching, opposite what is intended. This will only lead to more slaughter of elephants!
  • “Takes” hundreds of millions of dollars of Americans’ investments in ivory in violation of the 5th Amendment.
  • Presumes guilt, making all ivory owners criminals, no need for the government to factually establish illicit activity, which is both un-American and irrational.
  • No practical way for most Americans to establish their ivory is legal. Establishing exceptions based on evidence virtually nobody can provide is patently abusive.
  • The current system and rules have proven effective at restricting U.S. trade in illegal ivory, no need to fix what’s not broken. The problem is not the U.S. and this outrageous ban in the U.S will not affect the huge market for illegal black market ivory in China and elsewhere. In its September 2012 Fact Sheet, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) stated, “we do not believe that there is a significant illegal ivory trade into this country,” clear proof by the agency enforcing this ban that this is not a problem in the U.S.

Opposing this outrageous ivory ban is not going to be easy. Please donate today to help us protect your rights and interests.

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