By Douglas S. Ritter
Help Stop the Ivory Ban and Prevent an Expansion of Poaching
Mr. Cade London
Special Assistant, USFWS International Affairs
Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking
4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 110
Arlington, VA 22203
VIA EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Request for Public Input – Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking Public Meeting March 20, 2014
Knife Rights represents America’s millions of knife owners, knifemakers, scrimshaw artists, knife retailers and suppliers to knifemakers and scrimshaw artists, many of whom own legally acquired ivory or knives with ivory components.
I am writing in opposition to imposition of rules by the U.S. that will virtually ban all commercial sales and trade in ivory within the United States. This action unfairly and illegally persecutes honest ivory owners who find their investment in legally acquired ivory “taken” by government edict and made worthless, their livelihood stolen from them in some cases. They now find themselves not only treated as criminals, but also without any onus on the government to prove illicit activity. Rather, they must prove their innocence, an offense to America’s longstanding legal principles and protections of its citizen’s rights.
Knife Rights and all those we represent unequivocally support science-based conservation efforts that have proven successful in posting significant gains in elephant populations in Africa and Asia over the past few decades. Knife Rights and those we represent unequivocally support practical and lawful efforts to defend elephants in the field from poachers as well as lawful enforcement activities that directly target illegal black-market trade in ivory. This ivory ban accomplishes none of these effective and proven objectives.
To the contrary, it is reasonable to expect that the unintended consequences of this irrational and unlawful ivory ban, although not unforeseen by many, may well be an increase in the poaching and senseless slaughter of elephants. That is the exact opposite of the desired outcome.
This action is not supported by facts or science, unlawfully punishing America’s legal ivory owners. All this flies in the face of the reality that there is no significant illegal ivory problem in the U.S. Studies by ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System set up by CITES) indicate that virtually none of the ivory from elephants being poached in Africa today is coming to the U.S. (“African Elephant Summit Background Document 2013,” pages 16-18). Another study by ETIS indicated that laws passed in the U.S. have little effect on elephant populations (“Martin Stiles Ivory Markets in the US,” page 5). These same studies indicate that the U.S. is already the world leader in the fight against trafficking of illicit animal parts, out of 89 counties studied, and by a significant margin. Finally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with enforcement of this ivory ban, in their September 2012 Fact Sheet states, “we do not believe that there is a significant illegal ivory trade into this country.”
The huge increase in demand for ivory in China, which prompts continued poaching, has been triggered by the significantly increased buying power of China’s citizens, which has driven up the price of many items, and their government’s lax controls on black-market ivory. Nothing that penalizes owners of legal ivory in the U.S. will have any effect on that demand. Taken together with the studies referenced, clearly, this ban is a hypocritical and ineffective solution in search of a problem.
While promoters of this ivory ban claim that existing ivory owners would be protected if they provide proof of their ivory being legal, that claim is disingenuous, at best, unrealistic as well, and also unlawfully puts the burden of proof on the owner or seller who is guilty until he proves himself innocent.
While the new rules excludes “antique” ivory that is over 100 years old, it also requires proof that the ivory is antique, which doesn’t exist in the vast majority of cases. Suggested alternative means to provide proof when there is no paper trail are impossible, unrealistic or unreasonable in many, if not most, cases. Any scientific analysis that can provide ironclad proof of antiquity costs so much that it is beyond the reach of the majority of ivory owners.
Ivory which isn’t “antique,” but which was legally imported prior to restrictions (1975 for Asian elephant ivory and 1990 for African elephant ivory), represents the majority of ivory in the U.S. For most owners of ivory there’s no proof to be had because any ivory imported prior to the existing import restrictions did not require any documentation. Any ivory imported since the restrictions were in place only required documentation for import, not subsequent sale within the U.S. This represents a Catch 22 for ivory owners and those who work or trade in ivory.
And, it’s a Catch 22 made even worse for there being no requirement that USFWS provide proof of the ivory being illegal. Beyond this unreasonable basis for prosecution, Knife Rights is also seriously concerned about enforcement by USFWS agents who have no ability to differentiate between now-prohibited elephant ivory and other forms of still legal ivory. Many other types of ivory, both fossil and from other animals, and even faux ivory from flora, appear the same to the minimally trained eye. Some are virtually impossible to differentiate without detailed and very expensive laboratory analysis. Without need to prove guilt, they are free to take a “kill them all, let God sort it out” attitude toward enforcement-arrest anyone and seize anything that might possibly appear to now be illegal and let the innocent victims deal with the terrifying and expensive legal assault by the government. That all-too-likely possibility should be offensive to law-abiding Americans and this Council. More....