Appraisers Ivory Update February 2015
Matthew Quinn, Quinn’s Auction Galleries
Ivory continues to be a question at the forefront of our industry. I have compiled here a basic update of relevant information that every appraiser should know.
First of all, the rules for the sale of Ivory have not changed on the Federal level. This is important as many appraisers are asking me what is it worth? The proposed rule changes haven’t actually been made public, and the only recent changes are those that affect import/export, which essentially cannot be done now. Interstate commerce is legal in all 50 states. The rule publicity and proposed changes have had impact on the prices realized around the country and should be noted for both analysis and narrative inclusion, as the future remains unclear. Regardless the value of Ivory is not zero!
Secondly, there is ongoing legislative action. The USFWS has drafted proposed rule changes that have been sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review of their economic impact. It is unlikely that many changes will occur here but various lobbying groups are meeting with both the USFWS and OMB to detail their respective concerns. This process is sealed and the proposed rule changes will not be public for another 45-60 days, at which time the will be open for public comment for an anticipated additional 60 days, before potentially become part of the law. It is anticipated that the 100 year antique exemption will be retained and that the only potential rule changes will be to the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) which currently allows for the sale of African elephant ivory that was harvested prior to 1973 and imported to the US prior to 1990 (note the port of entry requirement has been removed) . As is stands now affidavits of this action by a client are sufficient proof, but we expect clarity on the matter soon.
Finally, environmentalists are pushing many states to enact and propose legislation. Currently NY, NJ & CA have enacted bans that appraisers should be aware of. Other states that are reviewing potential legislative action are: CA (changes), CT, FL, HI, IL, IA, MD, OK, VT, VA (stricken), and WA.
Appraisers should watch for more updates as more states come online reviewing possible rule changes.
For more information, updates or to learn how you can get involved at any level, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advisory Council Wants More Money
The Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking held a public meeting in Washington D.C. on April 23, 2015. A recurring theme in this meeting was the need to prosecute wildlife traffickers. While rhinos and other species were discussed, ivory was again a major point of discussion. The danger in these discussions is that the government expands the definition of illegal ivory so it can go after otherwise innocent Americans to boost prosecution statistics and justify bigger budgets.
The Council and NGOs want more government money to advance their cause. While other species were discussed, elephants and ivory kept coming up because they are the most effective fund raisers NGOs have to solicit money from donors and governments.
There were lots of frustrated animal activists at the meeting. They brought sponsors of the New Jersey Ivory Ban to promote state efforts to ban ivory, but it was clear that they were unhappy that no other state level bans have passed. Part of the “ask” for a bigger share of the federal budget is to fund more public relations efforts to link ivory with elephant poaching, which they hope will increase pressure on states. To help justify more money, they are also increasingly exaggerating the link between terrorism and domestically traded legal ivory.
These groups also expressed a lot of frustration at the meeting because USFWS has not yet published its regulation revoking the Special Rule for African Elephants. The FWS representative said he expected a regulation “soon” and that it would contain “de minimis exemptions” for “very small amounts of ivory” that he said would satisfy the legal ivory owners whom the Service has spoken to over the past year.
Unfortunately, the representative did not disclose what those exemptions would be. If they are anything like we have seen come up in state legislation or in FWS guidance to date, then they are unlikely to satisfy anyone.
Much more was discussed at the meeting, and you can download our response to this meeting here: AdvisoryCouncilResponseLetterFor150423Meeting.pdf. The hard work of all of our groups to stop state level ivory bans and force the federal government to carefully evaluate its next steps have been effective at slowing down bad policy.
What this last meeting made clear is the ivory ban has devolved to being all about money. In fact, Council Member David Hayes suggested that the next Advisory Council meeting should be focused on how much more money they want from the government to fund things like more propaganda (so-called demand destruction) and widespread prosecutions.
The only way to fight this is to remain persistent in our efforts to fight against ivory bans on every level. We must continue to educate legislators, show up at hearings, and expose the exaggerations & bad policies that overzealous activists are using to demonize ivory. As expressed in my comments to the Advisory Council, not only will innocent Americans needlessly lose property and cultural treasures, but elephants will be condemned to even greater hostility and threat of extinction if all possibility of economic value to local African communities is stripped away.
To show how bad things could get, New York, which already passed its own ivory ban, is now considering a law that would eliminate ivory exemptions in its ban AND criminalize possession of ivory. This should be a lesson to anyone who thinks they can carve out an exemption to protect themselves at the expense of other ivory owners. That strategy will only lead to weakening the overall effort of legal ivory owners and businesses so the temporarily favored few can be picked off in the future.
We Need Financial Support
I’m also asking everyone to help us keep up the fight by donating to our organization. It has been very difficult to maintain fights with the federal government and all of the states where bans have been introduced. The latest state to introduce a ban is Michigan. Working with partners, we have beaten back efforts in Virginia, Washington, and Maryland. Bans look unlikely to succeed in Oklahoma, Iowa, Florida, Hawaii and Rhode Island. Fights are ongoing in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Oregon, California and possibly Illinois. Unlike the ivory ban advocates, we don’t have government grants or multi-million dollar budgets from which resources can be diverted. Our ability to continue this fight depends on you.
From last September this LA Times article is still very relevant as the environmental activista shift their focus from the federal government to states. See our last newsletter Winter 2015 for more information.
States are eyeing stiffer ivory laws amid a surge in elephant poaching
States react to elephant poaching surge
Rungroj Yongrit, European Pressphoto Agency
California is the second-largest market for ivory in the U.S., after New York. Above, Thai officials display confiscated smuggled African elephant tusks during a news conference in Bangkok in July.
California is the second-largest market for ivory in the U.S., after New York. Above, Thai officials display confiscated smuggled African elephant tusks during a news conference in Bangkok in July. (Rungroj Yongrit, European Pressphoto Agency)
Environmental groups are targeting California for tougher ivory laws in bid to stop surge in elephant poaching California could be the third state to impose stricter ivory bans since a federal crackdown began in February. Stiffer federal, state laws on ivory sales have fueled a backlash among antique dealers, musicians and the NRA. In an effort to stop a recent surge in elephant poaching, states are moving to impose stricter bans on the sale of ivory, building on federal administrative actions taken this year.
New York and New Jersey have already taken steps recently to tighten restrictions on the sale of ivory, and environmental groups say their next target is California. "We believe that California law needs to be fixed," said Elly Pepper, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group. I was in San Francisco walking down the streets and there's a shocking amount of ivory in that city, and the same is true for L.A.
- Elly Pepper, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council
"I was in San Francisco walking down the streets and there's a shocking amount of ivory in that city, and the same is true for L.A.," she said. "A state that has such a reputation for protecting animals and wildlife should not have that much ivory on its streets."
California is the second-largest market for ivory in the U.S., after New York, with major hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to a 2008 study from Care for the Wild International, an animal-protection charity. Although California has strict ivory laws on its books, Pepper said she is working with other groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, to propose legislation that would step up enforcement, increase penalties for violations and close legal loopholes.
Among the loopholes, she said, is a law permitting the sale of ivory imported prior to 1977. Pepper said it is difficult to differentiate between ivory imported before and after 1977. The council also wants to increase the minimum $1,000 fine, which Pepper said is not enough to deter smugglers.
Stricter state laws come amid a surge in elephant poaching that is threatening to drive the animal to extinction. According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, more than 100,000 elephants were killed for ivory from 2010 to 2012. The study says the proportion of illegally killed elephants has jumped from 25% to between 60% and 70% in the last 10 years.
California would be the third state to impose stricter ivory bans since a federal crackdown began in February.
Ben Curtis / Associated Press
More than 100,000 elephants were killed for ivory from 2010 to '12, a recent study says. Above, two baby orphaned elephants touch trunks last year in Kenya.
More than 100,000 elephants were killed for ivory from 2010 to '12, a recent study says. Above, two baby orphaned elephants touch trunks last year in Kenya. (Ben Curtis / Associated Press)
The federal rules include banning all commercial imports of African elephant ivory regardless of age. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of finalizing additional rules that could ban interstate trade of ivory, with some exception for antiques, and limit the number of tusks and ivory that may be brought into the U.S. by sports hunters.
New Jersey expanded upon the federal restrictions by prohibiting the sale, purchase, barter or possession of ivory or rhino horn with limited exceptions for educational items. Antique dealers in New York can no longer sell items that are less than 100 years old and that consist of more than 20% ivory.
Some state lawmakers said the actions taken by the federal government did not go far enough.
"Right now, the federal law has too many exceptions that can easily be circumvented by those who are dealing illegal ivory here in the United States," said New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and primary sponsor of his state's law. "I hope this will be a model for the federal government to tighten up its loopholes."
Stricter federal and state laws have triggered a backlash among antique dealers, musicians and the National Rifle Assn. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made some modifications to accommodate musicians traveling with instruments containing ivory, the effect of the stricter state laws has fueled concerns.
"The NRA is deeply concerned with the Obama administration's anticipated rule and the actions taken by New York and New Jersey to effectively ban the sale and trade of legally owned pre-ban ivory," said Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokesperson. "Consequently, many priceless personal effects will be rendered valueless."
Antique dealers in particular are concerned about stricter state laws.
"I think the conservation groups want every state in the union to pass a law," said Clinton Howell, president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America. "I wish they would take a moment to try to understand that what we are doing has absolutely no impact [on the ivory trade]."
Antique dealers insist there is a clear distinction between old ivory and new ivory, but environmental groups say new ivory often comes into the U.S. under the guise of antique ivory.
"The problem is no one knows what's legal and what's illegal unless you're a true expert," said Gina Kinzley, lead elephant keeper at the Oakland Zoo. "There are actually places that will put a stain on the illegal stuff to make it look antique."
Kinzley expects a backlash if a new bill is introduced in California, which she hopes will occur next year. But she remains optimistic.
"New Jersey was the first state to pass the bill, California will hopefully be the third," she said. "You're seeing the domino effect of state by state passing a moratorium on the ivory trade."