Ethics and Legal Issues

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Contributors: Yuri Yanchyshyn, Alexandra Darraby
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Copyright: 2013. The Wooden Artifacts Group Wiki pages are a publication of the Wooden Artifacts Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Wooden Artifacts Group Wiki pages are published for the members of the Wooden Artifacts Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.


Materials derived from endangered species, including ivory, tortoiseshell, tropical woods and exotic feathers are sometimes incorporated into fine arts objects. There are far-ranging implications with these now protected materials, including legal, financial and ethical issues.

This page presents information relating to a legal and materials overview of these complex situations and how they affect fine arts conservators in both institutional settings and private practice. Some of the resources relate to the multifaceted legal and ethical obligations of conservators when working with such materials. Others illustrate case studies which bring these issues into sharp focus, and options for conservators when the integrity of the object intersects with the realities of procuring replacement materials.

Legal Sources of Materials

The National Wildlife Property Repository - is responsible for receiving wildlife items that have been forfeited or abandoned to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These items are stored in a secure environment, and disposed of in accordance with the law. Many of the items are donated to educational facilities, non profit organizations, and conservation agencies to aid in teaching about endangered species and other wildlife. Others items are sent to scientific institutions to be used in research to develop better identify and/or protect the wildlife. Museum conservation departments may send a letter on official letterhead regarding requests, including contact information, primary description of use, and specific items/species requested. Note that there is a waiting period on such items of approximately 90-120 days from receipt of a request. Requests are filled on a first come first serve basis. For more information contact:

Annette M. Maes
Wildlife Repository Specialist
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
6550 Gateway Road, Bldg. 128
Commerce City, CO 800022
Office: (303)287-2110 ext. 236
Fax: (303)287-1570

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

General Websites

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) -

Legal Sources
Darraby, A. 2013. Art Artifact Architecture and Museum Law, Vol I and II. Reuters West.


Is the Species Protected?
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Permits page contains a listing of the various United States Government laws and conventions that in turn have separate listings of species that are protected. A particular species may be protected under a single or multiple laws.

Exemptions to the endangered species act
United States Code Title 16 - Conservation, Chapter 35 - Endangered Species, 1539 - Exceptions General List of exemptions.

Sections (g) Burden of proof and (h) Certain antique articles answer the following question: is your object considered to be an antique, thereby making it exempt it from United States Code 1539. This is particularly relevant to conservators in private practice.

Legal Sources of Materials

Treatment Considerations
Loss Compensation

  • Don Williams. “Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell”. 2003 Proceedings of the Sixth Rijksmuseum Conference on Furniture. Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum
  • Yanchyshyn, Yuri “Spring 2012 - The Conservation of an Ivory Statue”. Newsletters: “In the Studio” -

Case Studies