Save the ele­phants

A bill that would ban the sale of most ivory in Cal­i­for­nia is not only smart but nec­es­sary.

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY OPINION -

In Africa, an ele­phant is killed ev­ery 15 min­utes by poach­ers. That’s 96 il­le­gal killings a day. At that rate, the African ele­phant could be ex­tinct in 10 years, con­ser­va­tion­ists say. Poach­ers, armed with guns and, on oc­ca­sion, rocket-pro­pelled grenades, in­vade pro­tected parks in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Mozam­bique and Cameroon, among other coun­tries, killing ele­phants (and some­times park rangers along the way), hack­ing off the ele­phants’ tusks and leav­ing their bloody car­casses be­hind. What drives the slaugh­ter of the world’s largest land mam­mal is the trade in those ivory tusks, which has been out­lawed by in­ter­na­tional treaty since 1990 and by nu­mer­ous laws and reg­u­la­tions.

Still, the black mar­ket thrives, a bil­lion­dol­lar global in­dus­try that bankrolls ter­ror­ists, crime syn­di­cates and ne­far­i­ous mer­chants sup­ply­ing con­sumers with ivory carv­ings, trin­kets, jew­elry and other ob­jects. Many steps have been taken in Africa to end the il­licit trade, but most ex­perts now say that chok­ing off de­mand in for­eign mar­kets is the most ef­fec­tive tool left.

China is, by far, the largest mar­ket for il­le­gal ivory, ac­cord­ing to con­ser­va­tion­ists, but the United States is also one of the top five.

Fed­eral law bans all im­por­ta­tion of African ivory for com­merce, and Cal­i­for­nia law bans the sale of items here made of ivory im­ported on or af­ter June 1, 1977 (the year that African ele­phants were first listed by in­ter­na­tional treaty as be­ing threat­ened with pos­si­ble ex­tinc­tion). But it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to tell new, il­le­gally ob­tained ivory from older ivory taken law­fully be­fore the prac­tice was banned. Il­le­gally ob­tained ivory can be stained to make it look an­tique. A re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mis­sioned by the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil found that as much as 90% of ivory for sale in stores in Los An­ge­les was ac­tu­ally il­le­gal. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and an­ti­smug­gling ef­forts have shown clearly that the le­gal ivory trade can serve as a cover for il­le­gal trade.

AB 96, in­tro­duced by As­sem­bly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would tighten the rules by bar­ring the sale of al­most all ivory in Cal­i­for­nia. (The bill would also ban the im­por­ta­tion and sale of en­dan­gered rhi­noc­eros horn.) It passed the As­sem­bly last week with bi­par­ti­san sup­port. The Se­nate should pass it too, and the gov­er­nor should sign it into law.

New York and New Jer­sey have passed sim­i­lar laws. And the U.S. govern­ment is in the process of strength­en­ing its laws as well. Although the U.S. cur­rently al­lows in­ter­state com­merce in ivory that can be shown to have been brought into this coun­try prior to 1990, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice will be propos­ing new rules in a mat­ter of weeks that will pro­hibit such sales.

There are ex­emp­tions in AB 96 for the sale of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments that have proper doc­u­men­ta­tion show­ing that they were not man­u­fac­tured af­ter 1975 and for an­tique ob­jects that are less than5% ivory. And sci­en­tific and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions will also be al­lowed to buy and sell ivory un­der cer­tain re­stric­tions. The law doesn’t pro­hibit the pos­ses­sion of legally ob­tained ivory — nor does it stop own­ers from giv­ing it away or be­queath­ing it to their heirs. If it passes, the bill will not go into ef­fect un­til July 2016. So any­one who wants to sell some­thing will have more than six months to do so.

It’s not likely that the courts will see this law as a vi­o­la­tion of the Tak­ings Clause un­der the 5th Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion. When Cal­i­for­nia out­lawed shark fins, a group sued, ar­gu­ing that the govern­ment had taken away the value of traders’ shark fins. The courts ruled oth­er­wise, stat­ing that the govern­ment was not in vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion when it im­posed a com­plete ban on a prod­uct de­ter­mined to be harm­ful to the species.

As the dec­i­ma­tion of the African ele­phant con­tin­ues, fu­eled by the il­le­gal ivory trade, this law is not only smart, but nec­es­sary.

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