Restrictions on Ivory in the United States, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director’s Order No. 210

By Chris Michaels, Esq.

Piano Keys, by Texasgurl

Piano Keys, by Texasgurl

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently enacted an order seeking to restrict the market for ivory in the United States; an action that may have unintended consequences. For example, in 2012, The New York Times ran an article noting that the market for upright pianos has plummeted in recent years. Formerly considered a “middle-class must-have” the cost of upkeep, coupled with the low cost of new electronic keyboards and foreign-manufactured uprights, caused many owners to discard their older upright pianos. Some of these relics of the past were outfitted with ivory – a material traditionally used to construct the keys. The resale of such ivory may now be subject to the newly enacted order.

While restrictions against the use and trade of ivory have been in place for years, there is an increased demand for ivory in emerging markets like China. In response to this trend, on 25 February 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”), through Director Daniel M. Ashe, enacted Director’s Order No 210: Administrative Actions to Strengthen U.S. Trade Controls for Elephant Ivory, Rhinoceros Horn, and Parts and Products of Other Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act. The Order was enacted to protect endangered species, namely African elephants, by regulating the ivory market in the United States. Specifically, it calls for strict enforcement of existing restrictions on the import, export, and interstate sale of ivory.

At first blush, the Service’s goal of protecting endangered animals through strict regulation of the market seems relatively straightforward. What is less straightforward, however, is the effect the enforcement of the restrictions will have on the sale of ubiquitous objects such as old musical instruments, chess sets, handguns, and other items that contain ivory. Until the new Order was enacted, these types of items could be sold within the United States with little concern for intervention by authorities. With the new Order in place it will become much more difficult to sell these items.

Pursuant to the Order, the interstate sale of ivory is strictly prohibited unless accompanied by an Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) permit. Transport is nonetheless allowed if the item can be qualified as “antique.” To comply with the “antique” exception, the importer, exporter, or seller must show that the object meets the following qualifications. The item:

  • Must be 100 years or older;
  • Must be composed in whole or in part of an ESA-listed species (of which there are approximately 2,140 endangered or threatened species under the ESA);
  • Must not have been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973 (the ESA was signed in to law by President Nixon on December 28, 1973); and
  • Is being or was imported through an endangered species “antique port.”

The specific “antique ports” include the following thirteen locations: Boston (MA); New York (NY) Baltimore (MD); Philadelphia (PA); Miami, (FL); San Juan, (PR); New Orleans, (LA); Houston, (TX); Los Angeles, (CA); San Francisco, (CA); Anchorage, (AK); Honolulu, (HI); and Chicago, (IL).

The ability to prove the above-mentioned criteria prior to a sale are extremely slim since the majority of antique ivory items lack provenance records.

In addition to restricting sales, the Order restricts the sale of musical instruments using ivory and also makes them difficult to import into the United States. The Order sets forth the following criteria that must be established in order to legally import the item:

  • It must have been legally acquired before February 26, 1976;
  • It must not have been subsequently transferred from one person to another person in the pursuit of financial gain or profit since February 26, 1976;
  • The importer must qualify for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”) musical instrument certificate; and
  • The musical instrument containing elephant ivory must be accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument certificate or an equivalent CITES document that meets the requirements of CITES Resolution Conf. 16.8.

Similar restrictions are now in place for objects containing ivory imported for traveling exhibition purposes. In other words, museums and foundations seeking to exhibit collections with ivory will likely find themselves struggling to meet the requirements set out in the Order. In fact, they are more likely to opt out of exhibiting objects containing or made of ivory to avoid incurring additional costs and risks associated with the exhibition.

The sentiment behind the Order is certainly praiseworthy, but it remains to be seen whether the overall chilling effect on the market for ivory in the United States will actually curb the poaching of African elephants. It surely will not have a chilling effect on continued demolition of antique pianos; however, art loans are another matter altogether.

Sources:

About the Author: Chris Michaels is a litigation attorney in the Philadelphia office of the Atlanta, GA-based law firm, Cruser & Mitchell, LLP, where he actively pursues his interest in the field of art law. He may be reached at 518-421-7238, chriswmichaels@gmail.com, or on Twitter @CMichaels88.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

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