Last year, Steve Kohn informed the world about dormant whistleblower provisions in wildlife protection laws that, if activated, would effectively combat wildlife trafficking. While several branches of the U.S. government have committed to addressing trafficking activities that have pushed many iconic species such as tigers and elephants to the brink of extinction, federal agencies have yet to use all the tools available to them in this fight.
In October 2016, Congress passed the END Wildlife Trafficking Act which codified President Obama’s Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking, as well as the National Strategy and Implementation Plan that were developed under the Order. The END Wildlife Trafficking Act proclaims U.S. law and policy to emphasize:
- Taking immediate actions to stop the illegal global trade in wildlife and wildlife products and associated transnational crime;
- Employing U.S. Government resources to curtail poaching and dismantle illegal wildlife trade networks; and
- Building upon the National Strategy and Implementation Plan to further combat wildlife trafficking in a holistic manner, and guide the response of the U.S. Government to ensure progress in the fight against wildlife trafficking.
Matching Congress’s bold vision for combating wildlife trafficking, President Trump issued an Executive Order that rallied U.S. law enforcement efforts to thwart wildlife trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. A robust wildlife whistleblower program would enable the U.S. government to quickly and efficiently pursue its policy goals by utilizing existing whistleblower tools that have been very effective in improving detection of a wide range of illegal activity.
Whistleblowers and Ocean Pollution
The whistleblower program under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) is a particularly good model for a wildlife whistleblower program because both programs target activities with international implications that occur in clandestine spaces and harm global resources. Furthermore, both contribute to the implementation of international treaties (CITES for endangered wildlife, and MARPOL for ocean pollution) and the whistleblowers are often non-U.S. citizens.
Effectively harnessing the power of whistleblowers under APPS has made the U.S. the number one country to enforce international obligations under the MARPOL convention. The Lacey Act and other related wildlife laws could be just as effective as APPS if authorities utilized the available whistleblower reward provisions.
Despite the existence of a strong framework to combat wildlife trafficking by incentivizing and empowering whistleblowers to report crime, the responsible agencies—which include the Secretaries of Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and Treasury—have not acted to unlock the power of whistleblowers to protect wildlife. The Secretaries have strong, bipartisan mandates to end wildlife trafficking, while having powerful whistleblower provisions, and a model framework for supporting international whistleblowers.
Continued complacency by the four Secretaries and their agencies is a guaranteed recipe for extinction for elephants, tigers, and rhinos, and other endangered species. Read the NWC Policy Summary to learn about the six steps that these agencies must take immediately to fight global wildlife trafficking.