League to Comment on Proposed Ivory Rules

September 21, 2015

As the League reported earlier this summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced new draft rules related to African elephant ivory. The proposed new policies - which would impact commerce and travel for musical instruments that contain ivory, such as bows, stringed instruments, and bassoons - are open for public comment through Monday, September 28. 
Aside from one clear improvement that would broaden the array of instruments eligible for travel permits, the proposed new rules are intended to deal primarily with future domestic interstate sale of items that contain African elephant ivory.
The League will file comments on behalf of its member orchestras in response to the proposed ivory rules and is coordinating with colleagues in other national music organizations to reinforce the following key points:                        

  • The music community is fully committed to the goals of wildlife conservation and combating illegal trade in ivory and other protected species. We seek reasonable solutions that protect the domestic and international use of musicians' tools of their trade and preserve the use of historically and legally made instruments now and for future generations to come.


  • We support the proposal to allow the future domestic interstate sale of musical instruments that contain "de minimis" amounts of ivory. 
  • We applaud USFWS for acknowledging multiple times in the draft regulations that "trade in the types of manufactured items that would qualify for this proposed de minimis exception is not contributing to or driving the illegal ivory trade." 
  • The proposed threshold for qualifying for the "de minimis" standard for domestic interstate commerce is 200 grams. While this amount covers a wide array of musical instruments that contain ivory, it may not cover instruments with multiple keyboards, such as organs, and some bagpipes. We also prefer a measurement by volume, as it may be difficult to assess the weight of ivory parts without dismantling fragile instruments. 
  • The proposed rules include exemptions for exhibitions by "museums or similar cultural or historical organizations." We request that orchestras and other 501(c)(3) cultural organizations be considered eligible for exemptions under this, or a separate future rulemaking process.


  • The proposed rules would remove the current restriction on non-commercial travel into the U.S. with instruments that were purchased after February 25, 2014 that contain African elephant ivory. We strongly support this substantial policy improvement. 
  • Further improvements are urgently needed for international travel with musical instruments that contain protected species material. We look forward to the opportunity for continued communication with USFWS as new travel-related policies are crafted.

Ongoing concerns related to international travel by orchestras and other musicians that cross borders to perform with the tools of their trade could be taken up in a separate rulemaking procedure. The opportunity to comment on travel-related concerns in more detail may begin later this year, when USFWS is expected to issue draft rules to formally implement the newly-crafted musical instrument certificate, and this issue may be taken up during the next negotiations on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The League will keep orchestras informed as that process moves forward, so that touring orchestras, guest musicians, and music ensembles can take full advantage of the opportunity to weigh in on potential policy changes.

If your orchestra - or individuals associated with the orchestra - would like to comment on the proposed rules, please keep in mind that all comments submitted to the Federal Register can be viewed by the general public. Also, responses on proposed regulations are most effective if they are customized to bring personal experience, statistical data, or a unique perspective to the issue. Multiple copies of "cookie cutter" messages do not have as much impact in this regulatory setting. Comments may be submitted using this portal in the Federal Register by September 28. If you do submit comments, please send a copy to the League's Washington, D.C. office so that we can reinforce your message in our ongoing communications with federal policy makers.
Further background on the proposed new ivory policies is on the League web site, and we will be keeping you posted on policy developments. If you have any questions, please feel welcome to contact the League's VP for Advocacy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Thank you!