Congress prioritizes partisan politics, special interests over fate of elephants

This Ivory Coast elephant’s tusks become more tempting to poachers if pending legislation blocks the Obama Administration plans to strengthen the U.S. ban on the ivory trade ©IFAW/M. BoothBuried in its annual spending bill, Congress dropped a partisan bombshell with grave implications for African elephants.

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives released its Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2015.

This legislation governs a good deal of our national domestic agenda, including funding for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making it one of the most important indicators of the United States’ commitment to conservation.

Beyond the big funding decisions, one particular section of the bill is disturbing to wildlife advocates everywhere: language inserted into the bill would block the Obama Administration from strengthening the U.S. ban on the ivory trade, which was announced in February as a part of the new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.

Like IFAW’s Jeff Flocken said in February, this strategy was expected to be “a big step toward putting [poachers] out of business and protecting elephants, rhinos, and other animals around the world.”

View IFAW’s infographic to learn more about the U.S. illegal ivory trade.

The ivory ban isn’t yet final (the Fish & Wildlife Service has to go through a rigorous legal, economic, and scientific assessment with opportunities for public participation) and neither is this legislation, but if Congress passes it, the funding bill would completely prevent the Administration from getting to the finish line, a classic subversive tactic when lawmakers don’t want to play ball.

We’ve gotten used to partisan politics—but rarely have we seen such a mean-spirited and malicious attempt to obstruct vital animal protection policies.

If this bill passes, there’s no way around the fact that thousands more elephants will be slaughtered to feed demand in the United States, China, and other consumer nations.

Ironic, given that the elephant is the Republican Party’s official symbol.

It’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of this crisis: Fewer than half a million elephants remain across all of Africa, and an elephant is killed every 15 minutes, on average, for its tusks.

Concerted international action is needed, now, to reverse this horrifying free-fall. The value of these special creatures should transcend partisan politics and the power wielded by special interest groups like the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International – both groups that have opposed elephant protections that would limit ivory trade.

It wasn’t like this before: In 1988, Republicans and Democrats passed the African Elephant Conservation Act, a vital law that helped convince the international community to act. 

Saving iconic species like elephants was once bipartisan and non-controversial, but the debate now seems to be about something else entirely.

In 1988, we knew conservation legislation of threatened species was the right thing to do.

In 2014, that should still be the case.

-- PL

IFAW will be working to keep Congress focused on protecting elephants, not hurting them—you can help.  Add your voice and email President Obama and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to stand strong for elephants.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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