Proposed Federal Ivory Ban Rule Punishes Americans for Chinese Supported Poaching

This proposed regulation is based on three FALSE premises being promoted by the Administration for entirely political purposes:

  • &#8226 Elephant poaching in Africa is escalating
    •      &#9702 Truth: CITES data shows poaching numbers have been falling since 2011 due to enhanced enforcement of existing law
  • &#8226Large amounts of illegal ivory are being imported into the United States that are driving the elephant poaching problems in Africa
    •      &#9702Truth: both CITES and U.S. data show that illicit ivory imports to the U.S. are insignificant, it is Chinese demand fueling the poaching
  • &#8226By punishing Americans, the Chinese consumers who are really fueling the poaching problems will abandon their cultural affinity for ivory
    •      &#9702Truth: Chinese demand for illicit ivory is independent from U.S. trade in domestic decades-old legal ivory

There is a lot to digest in this proposed regulation. The bottom line is that USFWS Director Dan Ashe has stated that the goal of the regulation is to implement a near complete ban on the domestic commercial trade of ivory. While the federal government does not have the power to stop trade within states, it is trying to end interstate trade (trade across state lines) in ivory that is decades-old and absolutely legal today to sell and trade.  


Ritter explained, “There is no evidence that this ban would save a single elephant in Africa, but it will take millions of dollars in value from honest Americans.”  


There is more in this rule than can be described in one email blast, but an important addition to what has come before is a new de minimis exemption. To dilute political opposition to the rule, particularly from this Administration’s key supporters, USFWS is proposing an exception for a narrow category of already manufactured items that contain less than 200 grams (7.05 oz.) of ivory.  


However, the exemption sounds better than it really is and there are some very strict and narrow criteria for the exemption. One critical criteria hasn’t even been established yet and ivory owners would have to wait on that from the USFWS until AFTER the rule is put into force! (If that sounds somewhat familiar to other rulemaking and legislative efforts by this Administration that have not turned out well, it should.):

  • &#8226 If the item is located within the United States, the ivory was imported into the United States prior to January 18, 1990, or was imported into the United States under a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) pre-Convention certificate with no limitation on its commercial use;
  • &#8226 If the item is located outside the United States, the ivory was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976;
  • &#8226 The ivory is a fixed component or components of a larger manufactured item and is not in its current form the primary source of the value of the item;
  • &#8226 The ivory is not raw;
  • &#8226 The manufactured item is not made wholly or primarily of ivory;
  • &#8226 The total weight of the ivory component or components is less than 200 grams; and
  • &#8226 The item was manufactured before the effective date of the final rule.

This exemption attempts to appease musicians and a limited number of other groups. It potentially might include some of the ivory handled and embellished knives owned by Americans. As noted, however, there are serious shortcomings to this exemption. Problems include:

  • &#8226 Sellers are still burdened with documentation requirements to prove they fit within the exemption and nobody will know for certain what this documentation will be until after the rule is put into effect! Nothing suggests that USFWS would be any more accommodating with regards to documentation than in its past positions and that means that very few individuals will be able to gain acceptable documentation, in large part since no documentation was previously required for these manufactured goods, so it simply doesn’t exist
  • &#8226 There is no provision for repair or restoration of ivory components
  • &#8226 The method for measuring ivory to determine whether an item qualifies has not been defined
  • &#8226 Items made primarily from ivory (i.e. scrimshaw, jewelry, sculpture and carved objets d’art, chess sets, netsuke, religious items, etc.) are excluded entirely from this exemption.

We will provide recommended comments to address these and other issues over the next two months. You will be able to submit more than one comment and we can respond to comments made by others as long as comments are received by the end of the comment period, September 28th.


Right now, the very best action you can take is to CALL or EMAIL your Representative and Senators and ask them to Co-Sponsor the African Elephant Conservation and Legal Ivory Possession Act of 2015 (H.R. 697 or S.1769, respectively) to protect both elephants and Americans. You can find your U.S. legislators and send them all an email here: