White House bans trade in elephant ivory

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 11, 2014 

The White House unveiled a national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking that includes a ban on commercial trade of elephant ivory.

The White House says the strategy will strengthen U.S. leadership in addressing what it called the "serious and urgent conservation and global security threat posed by illegal trade in wildlife."

The ban it says, will improve efforts to protect iconic species like elephants and rhinos by prohibiting the import, export, or resale within the United States of elephant ivory except in a very limited number of circumstances.

“We are seeing record high demand for wildlife products that is having a devastating impact, with species like elephants and rhinos facing the risk of significant decline or even extinction.” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “A commercial ban is a critical element in the president’s strategy to stop illegal wildlife trafficking and to shut down criminal markets that encourage poaching.”

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said the largely unregulated domestic trade in elephant ivory has served as a loophole that gives cover for illegal trade.

The move includes prohibiting the commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques.

All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for "bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act."

The Obama administration said it would also finalize a proposed rule that will will clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, and will prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants. To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act

And the White House said will restore Endangered Species Act protection for African Elephants. A previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade.

It will also support the limited sport-hunting of African elephants by limiting the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.

The White House called on other countries attending this week’s London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade to take action to combat wildlife trafficking and said it planned to work with Congress "to strengthen existing laws and adopt new ones to enhance our ability to address this global challenge."

The House Foreign Affairs committee will review the strategy to see that its "robust, aggressive and effective," said chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R, Calif.

Royce said the announcement follows a letter he sent to the co-chairs of the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, urging them to produce a “bold” strategy that includes the same law enforcement tools used to combat other transnational organized crime networks.

"Our current approach to fighting global poaching and the illegal trading of wildlife has fallen short," Royce said. "While this growing problem is a grave threat to wildlife, with some animals facing extinction, it is also a threat to U.S. national security interests. As long as illegal wildlife trafficking continues, terrorists and rebel groups will have yet another way to fund their deadly objectives.”

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