Expert: USFWS misrepresenting my work; US ivory ban would not save elephants

This is what Dr. Daniel Stiles, member of International Union for the Conservation of Nature – African Elephant Specialist Group (IUCN),  said in a letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service., goes further, calling the letter “a stinging rebuke to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the perversion of his study in furtherance of this illegitimate policy and proposed rule“.


Please contact the USFWS and ask them to reconsider the Ivory Ban. Contact your congresscritters and ask them to Co-Sponsor the African Elephants Conservation and Legal Ivory Possission Act of 2015. (Details at the bottom of this post)

USFWS Director Dan Ashe states in his “Director’s Corner” blog on the site that the goal of the regulation is “a near complete ban on trade in ivory within the United States”.

The rule change in question:  “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revision of the Section 4(d) Rule for the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) relies on multiple distortions of Dr. Stiles’ work to make the case for  rule change which would according to KnifeRights:

“unjustly persecutes honest ivory owners who find their lawful investment in legally acquired decades-old ivory “taken” by government edict and made worthless in violation of the 5th Amendment, their livelihood stolen from them in some cases”

From Dr. Stiles’ letter to the FWS:

On p. 45158 the FWS document states: “Demand for ivory is driving the current poaching crisis. Although the primary markets are in Asia, particularly in China and Thailand, the United States continues to play a role as a destination and transit country for illegally traded elephant ivory” – While this statement is true, it is misleading. I recently concluded a study for WCS-China on ivory demand drivers in China.

Assisted by sub-contractors, we concluded that evidence was overwhelming that the increase in elephant poaching beginning in about 2007 was caused by East Asian speculator demand for raw ivory, not by consumer demand for worked ivory. There are well over 2,000 tons of illegal raw ivory (poached + leaked from stores) unaccounted for since 2002, not seen in ivory outlets selling worked ivory. We believe much of it is stored by speculators who believe that increasing scarcity will continue to drive prices higher. Restricting trade of ivory in the U.S. will have no effect on addressing this problem.

In fact, US demand for ivory that is legal under current law is so low that it would be more profitable to export legal ivory out of the US than to import it illegally for sale.

“There is currently no demand for new poached raw ivory in the U.S. I carried out another consultancy for Vulcan Inc. recently that found that there is a glut of estate raw tusks that sell for prices about 10-15% of those that can be obtained in China. No informed ivory trafficker would try to smuggle tusks into the U.S. It would make much more sense to smuggle them out. Research I carried out with the television channel ABC in 2013 in New York and for NRDC in California in 2014 found that the worked ivory markets were down in scale considerably since the 2006-2007 Martin & Stiles USA survey. The relative importance of the USA as a destination for illegal ivory has been greatly exaggerated.”

Stiles also refutes that the United States is the second largest consumer of illegal ivory in the world. Apparently this is one of those frequently cited “facts” that are so frequently used by the media that are completely and demonstrably false-like 1 in 5 women are raped on college campuses (debunked here) or pretty much any “fact” uttered by gun-control supporters (debunked here). But as the saying goes “If you repeat a lie often enough…”

“I would like to dispel the false claim that the U.S. is the second largest market for illegal ivory consumption in the world – repeated in NGO campaigns and media stories constantly. It can be traced to Martin and Stiles’ U.S. ivory report in 2008, coauthored by this commenter. On page 111 of the Martin & Stiles report, there is a table in which the U.S. ranks second behind China/Hong Kong, based on the number of ivory items seen in retail outlets. The table says nothing about whether the items are legal or illegal. On the same page, the authors state: “The USA most likely ranks second in scale after China (including Hong Kong) in the size of its ivory market at the global level, followed by Thailand in third place.” Again, this statement says nothing about the legal/illegal market distinction. It is important to note also that in the same report, the authors state: – “The survey found 24,004 ivory items in the 657 outlets in the 16 towns and cities visited in the USA, most of which probably were legally for sale.” – “Relative to the size of the USA’s population and economy, little raw ivory enters the country legally or illegally (based on seizures). From this perspective, the U.S. ivory market does not appear a significant threat to elephant populations.”

That didn’t stop the NYT from swallowing the FWS Kool-aid reporting the exact opposite as recently as this past July.

According to Stiles, the FWS is blatantly misrepresenting his conclusions as well claiming all ivory items of recent manufacture (remember, there is a lot of legal, raw ivory already in circulation in the USA)

FWS stated on p. 45162, “Stiles estimated, in his 2014 follow-up study, that as much as one half of the ivory for sale in two California cities during his survey had been imported illegally. All of this demonstrates the need to impose restrictions on commercializing elephant ivory within the United States.”

The report in question said nothing about “imported illegally”. (emphasis added) The report actually stated on p. 15 that “There is a much higher incidence of what appears to be ivory of recent manufacture in California, roughly doubling from approximately 25% in 2006 to about half in 2014” and in the Conclusions, “the proportion of possibly illegal ivory has increased by 25% to half of all ivory in the two cities surveyed.” As stated above, even ivory manufactured in 2015 can be legal if it was made from a legal piece of raw ivory.

The age of manufacture of an ivory item says nothing about its legality. What matters is the date and manner of import. You can say little about that by looking at a piece of ivory.

There is also one major lie of omission:

“Another important fact not included in NGO and media reports, or in the proposed rule “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revision of the Section 4(d) Rule for the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana),” is the finding Stiles made in Manhattan, New York, in 2013 and in California in 2014 that the quantities of ivory and outlets seen selling ivory had declined substantially since 2006-2007 when the first survey was carried out. This strongly suggests that consumer demand is down and less illegal ivory has recently been entering the U.S.”

That inconvenient truth doesn’t support the FWS narrative and therefor must be suppressed.

Stiles cites numerous examples of how current laws are adequate for controlling the flow of illegal ivory into the US. Multiple seizures and public destruction of confiscated ivory (a terrific waste of resources, no different than melting down “buyback” guns; better to sell either at auction and use the proceeds to fight poaching/crime).

“Demand for recently poached ivory in the U.S. as recounted in the cases described on pages 45158-9 can be adequately addressed by pre-2014 existing law, as the successful prosecutions demonstrate. It is difficult to see how the proposals for more stringent controls that will adversely affect those owning and wishing to trade legal ivory will increase protection of elephants in Africa. If anything, it will divert law enforcement effort away from the type of large cases described on pages 45158-9 towards chasing collectors wanting to trade chess sets and netsukes (almost all of which are made on pre-1990 ivory, but which are not antiques as defined by the ESA).”

Stiles concludes with this impassioned destruction of the proposed ban:

If the U.S. government and civic organizations and individuals are serious about addressing the elephant poaching crisis, they should not divert human and financial resources away from the real problem. Introducing the proposed new restrictions on commercial uses of ivory will not make it simpler to control trade in elephant ivory. Litigation will no doubt ensue on several grounds, wasting everyone’s time and money…

…It seems to me a huge waste to be fighting this battle with mostly law-abiding American citizens when Chinese speculators are buying tons of poached ivory every year representing the slaughter of 20,000-30,000 elephants annually. And why are the speculators doing this? Because those who wish to prohibit legal ivory trade are creating the conditions for speculators to cash in. They are cutting off legal supply, creating artificial scarcity, before making the effort to create appropriate conditions in which it would make sense to cut off supply. I would strongly urge the FWS and the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking to devote its energies and resources to solving the real problem that is annihilating elephant populations in Africa – speculator demand for raw ivory in eastern Asia.”

Whether it is ivory, drugs, guns, or anything that the government wishes to prohibit, banning in item or activity does not remove demand. It simply inflates the prices of said object and creates incentives for criminals who wish to profit off of it.


What does this mean for you, the concerned TTAK reader?  There are two avenues of action that we encourage you to take.

First, please click here (and again on the check-box to specify this specific issue) and leave a polite comment to the FWS. Encourage them to reconsider the ivory rule change, citing this piece from Dr. Daniel Stiles as support for the notion that the proposed ban would be an unnessary burden for legal US ivory owners while wasting resources that could better be used to to curtail the ivory trade to China and other East Asian countries. Public comment got the BATF to back off the M855 green-tip ammo ban, there is the possibility that it might work here as well.

If you don’t feel like composing an original letter, copy and paste the following form letter (this is less effective than original writing):

“Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) Proposed Rule: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Rule; revisions to rule 4(d) for the African Elephant MUST BE WITHDRAWN. The proposed rule in its present form is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) (Pub. L. 79-404, 60 Stat. 237) and the Federal Data Quality Act (aka Information Quality Act) (“DQA”/”IQA”) (Pub. L. 106-554, § 515). The APA is violated, because the Service’s proposed rule is “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law” (5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A)). Specifically, the Service has not articulated a reasonable basis supported by reliable and accurate data for its decision to promulgate this rule. The DQA/IQA is violated, because the data upon which the Service has based its decision to promulgate this rule, is either entirely nonexistent or in the alternative, has been seriously misconstrued. One glaring example of serious misconstruction of data by the Service in justifying the promulgation of this rule, are the misreported findings of the studies conducted by Dr. Daniel Stiles, as noted in his comment submitted August 24, 2015 (See Stiles’s Comment, ID: FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091-0415!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091-0415).

The more promising avenue is to contact your congresscritters and ask them to co-Sponsor  the African Elephant Conservation and Legal Ivory Possession Act of 2015 (H.R. 697 or S.1769 respectively).

You can locate your Representatives and Senators contact information at





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Expert: USFWS misrepresenting my work; US ivory ban would not save elephants

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