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President Obama, along with the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, announced regulations Thursday to ban nearly all commercial elephant ivory trade in the country.
This landmark decision, coming from the country with the second-largest market for ivory, should have a significant impact on the trade. The ban helps fulfill President Obama's 2013 executive order to combat wildlife trafficking.
“We're excited the Obama administration has taken this important step to reduce the domestic trade in ivory," Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “The United States has one of the largest markets for ivory in the world and reducing demand here will go a long way toward saving elephants in Africa."
The ban follows a series of actions Kenya has taken to end the illegal ivory trade, including the burning of huge piles of tusks. Experts say roughly 96 elephants are killed daily—30,000 annually—for their tusks.
Thursday's "bold action underscores the United States' leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it's having on wild populations," Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell said, who serves as co-chair of the President's Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. “We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species."
Under current rules, ivory can be traded in the U.S. if it was imported before the African elephant was listed as endangered or if the animal died of natural causes as long as there was documentation, according to The New York Times. These rules provided opportunities for traffickers to use the legal markets as cover for illegal imports.
The new rules, which take effect July 6, limit the import of sport-hunted trophies to two per hunter, per year. Before the new rule there was no limit on trophies per year. The sale of ivory that was part of a move or inheritance is prohibited under the new rule. New prohibitions and restrictions will be placed on foreign commercial and noncommercial enterprises, The New York Times said.
“Since we proposed this rule in 2015, we received more than 1.3 million comments from the public, demonstrating that Americans care deeply about elephants and overwhelmingly support African elephant conservation," Fisheries and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. “Our actions close a major avenue to wildlife traffickers by removing the cover that legal ivory trade provides to the illegal trade. We still have much to do to save this species, but today is a good day for the African elephant."
One major exception to the rule allows musicians to trade instruments containing small amounts of ivory. Genuine antiques, artwork and chiseled chess pieces will be tradable under new conditions. Each item must be made with less than 200 grams of ivory to be eligible for sale, The Washington Post reported.
“We're particularly pleased that the rule confirms that domestic trade and international travel with existing musical instruments that contain small amounts of African elephant ivory aren't contributing to the poaching crisis," Heather Noonan, the vice president for advocacy at the League of American Orchestras, told The New York Times.
Not everyone is happy about the news. Ivory dealers and collectors said the new rules will cost them $11.9 million, according to The Washington Post. Century-old artifacts will be worthless because proving the item's age will be difficult.
“The result of this is the antique ivory business has all but ceased in this country," Anton Bruehl, a collector and researcher, told The Washington Post. “I cannot sell it in this country. I don't even know if I can donate it to this institution."
Bruehl conducted a survey of collectors that found up to 30,000 people who own ivory-adorned walking sticks, pianos, Japanese style panels painted with water colors and furniture will be affected by the new rules. Though, his opinion is not a popular one as the ban is receiving praise from all over the world.
Next week U.S. officials will visit Beijing to talk about further action against the global ivory trade, according to The Guardian. Ivory prices were already dropping in Asia in response to the ban, Peter Knights, chief executive of WildAid, said. He's hoping Japan will soon make a move to stop illegal trading.
For now, wildlife activists are celebrating this latest victory.
“The new regulations will make it much harder for criminals to use the United States as a staging ground for illegal ivory trade," Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at World Wildlife Fund, said. "They also send a strong signal to the international community that the US is committed to doing its part to save elephants in the wild."
This Newsy video provides more information about the ban and the state of ivory in the U.S.:
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?