In furtherance of the President’s Executive Order, on November 14, USFWS “destroyed its six ton stock of confiscated elephant ivory” at its National Wildlife Property Repository on Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver Colorado. World Wildlife Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and members of the Advisory Council were present and their statements were cited in the USFWS press release. The ivory “was pulverized by an industrial rock crusher with attendance of some of the world’s most influential conservationists,” according to the press release. It was crushed because it does not really burn. Well, it does not really crush either.
The media has been representing that the ivory was primarily poached or illegally taken ivory, but the formal USFWS press release confirms what we expected. A great deal of the ivory was lawfully taken hunting trophies largely confiscated over the past 25 years for non-substantive errors of export and import brokers and exporting government clerical errors. By far, the tusks were lawfully taken as part of a conservation strategy and management plan of the respective exporting countries and the revenue funded the operating budgets and costs of anti-poaching efforts. The owners of the lawfully acquired tusks were personally innocent of any wrongdoing and relied upon the permitting of the exporting government authorities and expertise of the professional import/export brokers. Conservation Force has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Director of USFWS for an inventory of the crushed ivory (really just broken up and now they don’t know what to do with that) to determine what percentage was legally taken trophies seized for clerical, non-substantive errors during the importation process.
While the message was intended to be noble, the fact is most of what USFWS attempted to pulverize was among the most valuable personal possessions of licensed, regulated hunters who were entirely innocent of real wrongdoing. Any suggestion that it was poached ivory is not truthful. Instead, its original owners were an important anti-poaching force, if not the most important. The press releases have added insult to the seizure and forfeitures as has the presence of IFAW with a parade of stars at the attempted destruction of the trophies.
Resolutions of CITES expressly provide for an importing country to notify and also to return such items to the exporting country of origin. Obviously, USFWS has made policy decisions overriding the two CITES Resolutions as it has chosen to convert innocent owners’ trophies into contraband. The USFWS has regulations for disposal of forfeited wildlife parts. Contraband can be sold, but some items are excepted. CITES Appendix I species and ESA listed species cannot be sold. 50CFR12:37. Of course, African elephant are ESA “threatened.” But for those exceptions, disposal by sale is preferred before destruction. 50CFR12:32. Destruction is the last in order after (1) return to wild, (2) put to government use, (3) donation or loan, (4) sale and (5) destruction, in that order.
The USFWS press release is entitled US Destroys Confiscated Ivory Stockpile, Sends Message that Wildlife Trafficking, Elephant Poaching Must be Crushed. That message has different meanings to different interests. Let’s hope it does curtail poaching and real wildlife trafficking. It shows no sensitivity to the lawful hunters now any more than at the time of seizure of their trophies. Having IFAW parading around hunters’ trophies that were confiscated for harmless human errors was worse. USFWS is working with people to our exclusion who have an agenda and openly admit they would rather game animals cease to exist than be legally hunted. The message that the “US will not tolerate wildlife crime,” the crush and the ceremony should have been done with select tusks, not lawfully taken hunting trophies. At the worst, the trophies after separation should have been auctioned to jewelers and furniture makers within the US (export prohibited by African Elephant Conservation Act-AECA) and the proceeds added to the African Elephant Conservation Trust Fund. The declared “message that wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching must be crushed” is unrelated to harmless import permitting errors.
The press release states:
Although some African elephant ivory (including lawfully hunted trophies and antiques that meet specific requirements) can still be imported legally into this country with appropriate permits, the United States generally prohibits commercial trade of both raw ivory and ivory products. The Service is currently evaluating ways to further strengthen its elephant ivory trade controls. (Emphasis added.)
This last sentence is foreboding in light of the already existing seizure and forfeiture practices (the most severe in the world) as well as the years of headaches to establish and maintain elephant trophy imports. If they raise the bar to imports even further, they will kill more elephants and eliminate more habitat than they can hope to save.
Conservation Force expends one-half million to $1 million a year in anti-poaching, primarily in Africa. A core part of sustainable use is to incentivize local people not to poach and to stand against those who do poach. Another essential is to generate revenue for anti-poaching activities. Also, the mere presence of a hunting operator deters poaching. That said, the hunting community is not invited to the table. Instead, it can be a ready target for those misusing the Executive Order. This is much like the UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms that, while aimed at illegal small arms, has sections seriously burdening lawful firearms ownership, use and transportation.