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Begich urges caution on potential ivory restrictions

Arctic Sounder staff

Last month, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich urged the Obama administration to adopt a reasonable approach to combat wildlife trafficking that includes the consideration of the subsistence practices of Alaska Natives and the economic consequences on rural communities.

Begich wrote a letter to Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell in response to reports that a presidential task force will release a national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking by early next year.

 “As the U.S. considers a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, I urge the Department of Interior to consider a reasonable approach when it comes to any immediate ban or restriction of the use of ivory,” said Begich. “Such actions could have negative economic consequences for Alaska Native artists and carvers that have acquired ivory in a legitimate, legal manner.”

On July 1,  President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing a task force to develop a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. The task force is comprised of private-sector leaders, representatives of nonprofit organizations and former government officials. A recent high-profile wildlife trafficking case, which involved two Tennessee men who admitted to selling narwhal tusks, had connections to Alaska.

“While the trafficking of wildlife and animal parts is a criminal activity that has become a multibillion-dollar illicit business, there are small businesses and niche markets that depend on legally acquired ivory pieces for things like musical instruments, firearms, knife handles, and certain art works,” said Begich. “Additionally, Alaska is home to small villages where Alaska Native people depend on a subsistence lifestyle and who use animal parts to make tools, art, or other products that then become the main source of income for the year.”

The Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking held a public meeting on Dec. 16 and will make recommendations to the president on the strategy. 

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.