A proposed ban on elephant ivory trading by the Department of the Interior is unlikely to reduce the illegal ivory trade, says Richard Epstein, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
The Department of the Interior, the agency in charge of enforcing the Endangered Species Act, recently announced plans to introduce a "ban on Commercial Trade of Ivory as Part of Overall Effort to Combat Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking." Objects with any amount of ivory in them could not be sold or moved across state lines.
- The end is legitimate -- ivory trafficking poses threats to elephant and rhino survival by poachers who kill the animals and sell their tusks, and has also led to the loss of human life.
- But that problem does not answer the question of the proper means by which to solve it.
- The White House's report on the ban expresses no concern about private property owners -- those who possess ivory in the form of piano keys, chess sets, guitar bridges, dice, tea sets and others.
The proposed restrictions are far too wide in scope. For example, they require owners to prove that any object within their possession containing ivory came through one of the 13 ports licensed to receive ivory. And yet, those ports did not begin keeping records until 1982. In practice, the Interior Department's rule will function as a ban against resale.
Moreover, this ban applies only to sales and movement of ivory in the United States, not in other countries. Removing this ivory from the market will only increase the value of new ivory sources -- further incentivizing illegal poachers and traders. A U.S. ban is not likely to reduce the demand for ivory in other countries.
Epstein points to a proposal from the Property and Environment Research Center, which has shown that supporting entrepreneurs who want to raise elephants and rhinos on private ranches for profit is the better way to deal with the poaching problem.
Source: Richard A. Epstein, "The Wrong Way to Combat Poaching," Hoover Institution, March 24, 2014.