New York Times Op-ed from Harris and Stiles Offers Infantile Solution to Ivory Ban

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Piano

As the details of the Fish and Wildlife Services order, (the ivory ban), continue to become known, there will be many experts who offer opinions in reaction to the new law, as it was created by the Executive branch of our government, and as it is currently ordered by the Fish and Wildlife Services Director.  Some opinions will be noteworthy and others will miss the mark entirely.

Let me begin with an analysis of the opinion which ran March 26, 2014 in the New York Times entitled The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants by op-ed contributors Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles.

This opinion argues on behalf of a sole, and perhaps earliest, Steinway upright which is located in Japan, and which will never again be permitted to be returned to the United States because of the limits imposed by the ban. You, dear reader, should infer (as may be the hope of the authors Harris and Stiles), that the new law banning ivory imports and exports is an “absurd” law simply because one piano must be sacrificed.

…is like pointing the finger of blame at your brother when you mother catches you with your hand in the cookie jar.

If that single exception is not enough to sway you, then you might feel the tug of social injustice and tyranny after learning that an “Edwardian bracelet inherited from a grandmother or an ivory-handled Georgian silver tea set owned by an antiques dealer” will be unable to be shipped or sold “without unimpeachable documentation that proves it is at least 100 years old, has not been repaired or modified with elephant ivory since 1973, and that it arrived in the United States through one of 13 ports of entry.

Let’s check the facts first. According to an email received from the law enforcement department of the Fish and Wildlife Services, “Upon the effective date of our updated use after import regulations final rule, only African elephant ivory that was imported prior to the Appendix I listing date for the African elephant under CITES, which is January 18, 1990, can be sold within a State or in interstate commerce. ”

There seems to be some ambiguity about the actual date. It is either 1973 or 1990, depending on who you believe.

Next, it is not accurate to say that an ivory bracelet cannot be shipped. Again, my source writes, “Once our ESA regulations are finalized, the interstate sale of all African elephant ivory that does not qualify as an antique will be prohibited without an ESA permit. Please be advised that the recently released Director’s Order does not restrict the movement within the United States of African elephant ivory products that are not intended for commercial use. ” (Emphasis added.)

So the bracelet can be shipped as long as an ESA (Endangered Species Act) permit is obtained. (Actually, you can just ship it in a box. No one is going to know!)

As What about the teapot. Can it be sold? No, it cannot be. That is just a sacrifice that will be part of the new law. No law is perfect, and there are always trade offs. Save an elephant – lose a teapot.  Life just isn’t fair to teapots.

As to what that ESA Permit requires, law enforcement writes, “Please be advised that the permit application authorizing the interstate sale of antique African elephant ivory will not be available until the corresponding ESA regulations are finalized. ” You can read the amendment “which you can view in paragraph (e)”.

Therefore, we can’t know. And if we can’t know, we can’t submit an opinion to the New York Times stating the conditions that must be met in order to ship personal property to an heir or to sell a teapot.

Let’s take a closer look at the sale of the Georgian silver tea set. Law enforcement writes, “Once our ESA regulations are finalized, the interstate sale of all African elephant ivory that does not qualify as an antique will be prohibited without an ESA permit” and those requirements, brutal and unenforceable as they are, are correctly noted by the opinion authors Godfrey and Stiles. But there is more to it than that, and you know it, and I know it. The limitations for intrastate and interstate sales cannot be known until the order is revised, which is expected to occur in June of this year. “We will propose to amend our Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations that govern the allowable use of African elephant ivory which you can view in paragraph (e)…”

Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles offer an alternative approach to the decrease in population of African elephants. It contains a deadly flaw. See if you can spot it.

“We should encourage China, where much of the poached ivory ends up, to start a detailed public education campaign that underscores the damage done to elephant populations by the illegal trade in ivory. We also need more aggressive enforcement of anti-poaching efforts in Africa. And we should figure out a way to manage the trade in raw ivory to protect elephants. For instance, several years ago, ivory stockpiles owned by several African countries were sold in a series of United Nations-approved auctions in an effort to undercut illegal ivory trafficking. The proceeds went to elephant conservation efforts. This is a better approach than destroying these stockpiles, as the United States did last fall to six tons of ivory.”

To begin, Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles, you and I, all live in the Untied States. We don’t live in China. We need to take care of our obligations and let China take care of its own. Asking to lift the ban on ivory because most of the demand for banned ivory is in China is like pointing the finger of blame at your brother when you mother catches you with your hand in the cookie jar. The opinion of Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles is infantile. We could use diplomatic efforts to help China manage their affairs if that opportunity presents itself, but not in lieu of, or as a substitute for amended legislation that will enable us to best manage our own affairs. I need to add, laws can be amended, changed, revised and rescinded. This is not the last word we will hear about the Ivory ban – it is just the first word. Battles aren’t won with one shot – they begin with one shot.

It was simply too soon for Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles to write an opinion. They don’t have their facts straight, and using the plight of a teapot, bracelet, and an old piano that is not in harms way, is an over-simplification compared to the magnitude of the problem facing the existence of the African elephant. The Obama Administration has come up with a plan. You may like it (I certainly don’t) but before you discount it, at least learn what it is.

Godfrey Harris directs the Political Action Network of the International Ivory Society, and Daniel Stiles is a wildlife trade consultant. I am a piano tuner. You would not expect that I would know what I am talking about, but you sure as Hell would expect that Harris and Stiles would. And yet…


I have also received a response from United States Senator John Cornyn. (I have also written to President Obama asking that the piano industry be exempted from the new law. The President receives 65,000 written letters each day, but I remain optimistic that I will hear from him or an aide in due time.) Senator Cornyn’s letter gives you an insight into the BROADER political issues that are ongoing regarding the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Services. He does not address the ivory ban specifically, but I think his opinion has value for those who are withholding their opinions until all the facts are in. I will close this blog now and leave you with Senator Cornyn’s letter.
Dear Mr. Moore:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the conservation of certain species. I appreciate having the benefit of your views on this important matter.

The best way to promote the long-term health of endangered species and the communities where they reside is through the involvement of local stakeholders. Conservation of species is a worthwhile goal, and I believe we must work to find a balance between conservation and economic growth and prosperity. Proposals to list species as endangered or threatened should be based on verifiable data and sound science — not used as a tool to block job creation and economic development.

Unfortunately, the ESA is increasingly being abused by environmental groups to petition for the listing of hundreds of species and to file costly lawsuits. In fact, millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent by federal agency attorneys defending litigation over the ESA.

In 2011, two environmental groups settled multi-district litigation with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that will result in potentially hundreds of species being added to the endangered species list and the payment of expensive litigation fees to the plaintiffs. One species proposed for listing as part of the settlements was the sand-dune lizard. Such a listing would have threatened the jobs of nearly 27,000 Texans who work in the Permian Basin, home to more than one-fifth of the top 100 oil fields in America. The FWS ultimately found a listing was not warranted due to conservation agreements put in place with landowners. However, the threat of more listings continues, as there are more than 100 species found in Texas that have received or are slated for federal review within the next five years.

Closed-door ESA settlements not only threaten undue regulation, but give plaintiffs undue leverage over local landowners, businesses, and elected officials in the conservation process. In response, I have introduced legislation to amend the ESA to increase safeguards for local communities and job creators. Senate Bill 19 (S. 19) would protect Texans from the burdensome regulatory impact of closed-door litigation settlements between special interest groups and the FWS by amending the ESA to give states, counties, and other affected parties a say in the settlement of certain ESA citizen suits. Furthermore, this legislation would prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from being used to settle these lawsuits. S. 19 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for further consideration. Although I am not a member of that committee, I am hopeful that they will soon take action on this important legislation.

I appreciate having the opportunity to represent Texas in the United States Senate, and you may be certain that I will continue to work with stakeholders and federal officials to protect our environment without damaging economic growth. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

United States Senator


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