New Ivory Ban And The Implications For Working Musicians

Todd Dupler, Director of Government Relations

The music community has a long track record of standing up for wildlife and the environment.  Artists such as GRAMMY winners Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews don’t simply pay lip service to this issue, they've demonstrated their commitment time and time again. But new rules recently announced by the federal government that are meant to strengthen conservation could have unintended consequences that needlessly hurt working musicians.

On Feb. 11 the White House announced a new strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, including a new ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. Two weeks later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a sweeping enforcement order detailing the actions it will take to implement the new policy. The order went into effect immediately.

Although ivory is no longer used in the manufacture of new musical instruments, many older musical instruments, such as guitars and bows, feature very small amounts of ivory and are still in use by artists today. These instruments, some of which are historically significant antiques, were legally crafted and legally acquired, but under the new rules artists could still be prohibited from traveling internationally with them.

While the administration’s efforts to safeguard endangered animals are necessary, the policy overreaches. Neither overseas travel with pre-existing instruments for the purpose of performance, nor the sale of pre-existing instruments between musicians, has any adverse impact on the conservation of African elephant populations. But preventing musicians from traveling abroad with the tools of their trade will not only hurt their ability to make a living, it will hurt cultural exchange. And prohibiting any sale of these instruments will only ensure that these unique and irreplaceable instruments are lost to future generations of musicians.

The Recording Academy, along with our allies at the League of American Orchestras, the American Federation of Musicians, and the National Association of Music Merchants, are reaching out to the USFW, Congress, and other relevant federal agencies to urge a more reasonable enforcement approach that won't unnecessarily penalize the music community, which has been such a steadfast ally of conservation. Check back here or on Facebook for updates, and for more information about whether the ban could apply to you, consult these helpful links from the League of American Orchestras.

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