New Ivory Rules Support Musical Instruments

June 2, 2016

On July 6, 2016, new rules will take effect for both international travel and domestic commerce with musical instruments that contain small quantities of African elephant ivory. Finalizing new rules under the Endangered Species Act to institute a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory has been a top priority of the Obama Administration. Since the plan to issue new rules was announced in February 2014, the League and its member orchestras have played a key leadership role in national conversations with White House officials, top leadership at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Congress, and conservation organizations to successfully seek solutions that would address the ongoing use of legally crafted musical instruments.

The final rules broaden access to travel permits, allow for domestic interstate commerce in existing musical instruments containing "de minimis" quantities of ivory weighing less than 200 grams, and very helpfully clarify that legally-crafted musical instruments are not contributing to the poaching and trafficking crisis. 

In announcing the rules to reverse a current travel restriction and provide opportunities for ongoing domestic interstate commerce in musical instruments, USFWS Director Dan Ashe said, "We listened carefully to the legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholder groups and, as a result, are allowing commonsense, narrow exceptions for musicians, musical instrument makers and trade items that have minimal amounts of ivory and satisfy other conditions. These items are not drivers of elephant poaching and do not provide cover for traffickers."

League President and CEO Jesse Rosen said, "We look forward to ongoing engagement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as further guidance is crafted to inform orchestra musicians about the de minimis sales exemption and expanded travel permit eligibility. The Administration's ultimate approach to the African elephant ivory rule demonstrates that it is possible to address urgent conservation needs while also supporting global cultural activity."

Between now and July 6, USFWS will be working on creating new resources to guide compliance with the new requirements. In the meantime, the League has analyzed the 114-page rule and new USFWS Q & A to provide a summary of the top items that relate to musical instruments.

See the League's Overview on the Ivory Ban and Musical Instruments

The League is grateful to our partners at Chamber Music America, The Recording Academy, the American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers, NAMM, the American Federation of Musicians, Carnegie Hall, and our other national collaborators in ongoing efforts to make progress on this complex policy issue.

Further action is still to come on a broader array issues related to international travel with protected species material, particularly as the U.S. prepares to enter into international negotiations on this topic at this September's Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).