NRDC Defends California's Ivory Law in Court

Last year, California became the third state in the country to pass legislation (Assembly Bill 96) restricting its ivory market, which is one of the three largest in the country.

Unfortunately, an entity called the Ivory Education Institute is trying to undo this huge victory. The group has also expressed opposition to the Obama Administration's efforts to enhance protections for elephants by limiting imports, exports, and interstate trade.

The Ivory Education Institute claims that the California ban is unconstitutional, and has filed a suit against the State of California to prevent the State from implementing and enforcing the new law. Today, NRDC asked for the court's permission to intervene on the State's behalf - along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Wildlife Conservation Society - to defend the law's constitutionality.

California NEEDS this legislation desperately. According to an NRDC-commissioned undercover investigation of California's ivory markets last year, up to 90% of the ivory for sale in Los Angeles and approximately 80% of the ivory for sale in San Francisco is likely illegal under California's preexisting - but unenforceable - law, meaning that the ivory likely came from relatively recently killed elephants and could be linked to the poaching crisis now gripping Africa. Because it is legal under federal law to buy and sell old ivory, and ivory from species like mammoth, ivory sellers in California make recently poached ivory appear old by staining, chipping, and cracking it. They also regularly mix it with legal mammoth pieces to confuse customs and enforcement agents.

California's new law (California Fish and Game Code Section 2022) - which will become effective this July - closes the loopholes in the state's previous statute. It will eliminate California's flourishing illegal ivory trade by banning the sale, offer for sale, possession with intent to sell, and importation with intent to sell of elephant, mammoth, narwhal, whale, walrus, and hippo ivory, along with rhinoceros horn. The law also increases penalties to up to $50,000 or twice the value of the goods, whichever is greater, and/or one year in prison.

The law DOES include reasonable exemptions for activities that are unlikely to contribute to the illegal ivory trade, such as transfers to legal heirs and beneficiaries, antiques containing less than 5% ivory or rhino horn, and musical instruments that were manufactured in 1975 or earlier and which contain less than 20% of ivory or rhino horn. But like the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, it seems the Institute cares more about the utility of elephants than the animals themselves.

New York and New Jersey have already implemented ivory bans, and it's essential that California do the same. We are confident that this law is going to make a big impact - especially now that Governor Brown has included almost $2 million in his proposed budget for 2016-2017 to enforce it - and we'll fight to ensure it gets a chance to make a difference.

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Deputy Director, Wildlife Trade, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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