National Whistleblower Day

Environmental Whistleblowers

Seven major federal environmental laws (Clean Air, Toxic Substances, Clean Water, Atomic Energy, Solid Waste, Safe Drinking Water and Superfund) have special provisions protecting employee whistleblowers.

Brazilian scientists reported in November that 3,769 square miles of forest cover had been lost in a one year – the biggest decline in a decade.

The New York Times reports that President Jair Bolsonaro “who has long argued that conservation policies stymie economic development, has been disdainful of the environmental measures that reduced the Amazon deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012. His government has weakened enforcement of environmental laws by cutting funding and personnel at key government agencies, and it has scaled back efforts to fight illegal logging, mining and ranching.”

At the same time, more than 150 environmental activists were murdered in worldwide last year, according to one report.

Forest Watch app

When laws are weak or ignored and informers risk their lives, whistleblower laws can offer protection. The National Whistleblower Center announced a new program Monday to help environmental whistleblowers worldwide get lawyers, remain anonymous and get rewarded. The program will focus on the logging and fossil fuel industries.

Corruption and organized crime sound like urban problems. But illegal logging by criminal gangs is a well-established barrier to ending deforestation. It happens in countries with weak rule of law and systemic corruption, according to Interpol, the international law enforcement agency. The tropical forests are vast and often remote, thus hard to monitor.
Continue Reading Can whistleblowers save the Amazon rainforest?

A guest post and photos by Katarzyna Nowak. Nowak, a fellow at The Safina Center in New York, describes herself as a “wildlife conservation practitioner aspiring to bridge the science-policy-society interface.”

The zone north of 60 degrees latitude receives relatively little attention in the realm of wildlife crime. Vast areas of Alaska and the Yukon and their borderlands are stewarded by few people. For scale, Alaska is larger than Texas, Montana, and California combined and more than 3.5 times larger than the Yukon. A diversity of large, migratory mammals such as caribou, elk, moose, and Pacific walrus inhabit the region. Some are regarded as cultural keystone species that underpin the livelihoods of northerly indigenous people, yet their “value” gets contested and trivialized in the courts. Hunting pressure is high including at remote, fly-in only outposts.

CAPTION: A cutline through boreal forest demarcates the world’s longest undefended north-south international boundary, between the Yukon, Canada and Alaska, United States. Photo Credit: Katarzyna Nowak
Undefended north-south international boundary, between the Yukon, Canada and Alaska.

While whistleblowers have helped expose wildlife criminals by, for example, sending anonymous letters to Alaska Wildlife Troopers about illegal hunting activities, these instances have been few, raising the question: If an animal is poached in the far north, will someone be around to witness it? A variety of domestic and international routes lead into and out of the region by ground, air, and water, and traffic is increasing on northern shipping lanes.

In June 2018, while on fieldwork in the Yukon, I was sent a news article, “Black market animal smuggling is booming in Canada”. The Director General of Wildlife Enforcement for Environment Canada, Sheldon Jordan, described how his department, anticipating an unusually busy year of animal smuggling, had shifted more resources to the seizures team. According to Jordan, live animals are smuggled into Canada for the pet trade, and dead animals and their parts for décor, food, and traditional medicine, with a spike during summer months. He described a remote border crossing between Alaska and the Yukon—called Alcan-Beaver Creek—as having the second highest number of illegal incidents after metropolitan Vancouver. Is this because Customs and Border Protection are able to check a majority of vehicles or because smugglers see it as a convenient cross-border backdoor?

Wolverine fur
Seized wildlife items at the Beaver Creek border check point in the Yukon, Canada.

Upon visiting, I realized this crossing is unlike the northernmost one known as Top of the World, where U.S. and Canadian border authorities occupy the same site. At Alcan-Beaver Creek, the two border stations are separated by more than 20 miles. The in-between zone (under the jurisdiction of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at least until the cutline that demarcates the international border half a mile from the U.S. Alcan station) struck me as a loophole: You could leave Alaska, stash items in Canada, clear customs at Beaver Creek, and return later (short of the U.S. border) to pick up your illicit goods. You could then re-enter explaining you hadn’t left Canada—and get waved through. I know it’s possible, because I did it (minus the stashing of any items). Additionally, people living in Beaver Creek enter this in-between zone to go to a dumpsite.

Often the more serious offenses, beyond paperwork violations and unlawful transport, happen farther afield away from official border posts. Detection may depend on whistle-blowing, saying something if seeing something suspicious including on social media or hunt chat forums. Charges have been brought against hunters and outfitters in this way.
Continue Reading Guest post: Whistleblowers could help expose wildlife criminals in remote Alaska-Yukon

Tuesday is the deadline to register for the Thursday, June 13 webinar on the role of citizens in enforcing environmental law. From the Environmental Law Institute:

Click here to register for the webinar: Collecting evidence of environmental crime

Around the world, significant progress has been made to establish legal frameworks for environmental protection. Many of these laws can help to put a stop to pollution or conserve natural resources in the United States, as well as foreign countries and international waters. However, the success of these laws is greatly hindered by a lack of enforcement.

Oftentimes, everyday citizens have evidence of environmental wrongdoing, or could easily collect it, but lack the know how to report such evidence to the authorities, or otherwise follow up on required procedures.


Continue Reading Webinar for wildlife whistleblowers: Collecting evidence of environmental crime

Bow_of_the_Caribbean_Princess,_Liverpool_(geograph_2977707)
Caribbean Princess

Princess Cruises “depends on the oceans. We are committed to environmental practices that set a high standard for excellence and responsibility and help preserve the marine environment.” Its “Planet Princess” web page describes how the company does that through voluntary “environmental certification” and efforts to minimize air and water pollution.

The Department of Justice tells a different story. On Monday, the DOJ announced that the company was fined $20 million after violating the terms of probation from a 2017 citation for dumping polluted water into the ocean. This update notes that they continue to illegally dump plastic overboard as well.

A whistleblower – one of the ship’s engineers — originally brought that case to the authorities. That’s how regulators get most of their cases these days, according to a  Department of Justice official who spoke at a panel on the topic in April.
Continue Reading A whistleblower exposed illegal dumping by Princess Cruise Lines. The DOJ says they are still doing it

A Greek shipping company and its chief engineer were indicted Tuesday for witness tampering and falsifying records to hide the illegal discharge of waste oil into the sea.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the six-count indictment against Chartworld Shipping Corporation, Nederland Shipping Corporation, and Chief Engineer Vasileios Mazarakis. A federal grand jury in Wilmington, Delaware acted after hearing evidence that the company failed to keep accurate pollution control records and falsified records. The charges also include obstruction of justice and witness tampering, according to the DOJ.

The case was brought under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), a U.S. law that implements the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly known as MARPOL. The law has a whistleblower provision and investigators say they use it routinely when witnesses come forward.


Continue Reading Pollution from ships law leads to charges of cover-up, witness tampering

The New York Times was blunt in its series on crime at sea: “Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas, where egregious crimes are routinely committed with impunity.”

Whistleblowers are key to exposing those crimes, including illegal dumping from ships, according speakers at a Tuesday webinar broadcast from Washington. The panel looked at the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes, including those that violate a law known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

“Enforcing, let alone detecting violations on the open ocean– with how vast it is — is just inherently difficult,” said Anton DeStefano, Lieutenant Commander of the U.S Coast Guard’s environmental law division. He noted that he was speaking for himself, not the agency.


Continue Reading From cruise ships to tankers, big boats dump waste into the ocean. Whistleblowers can stop them.

Whistleblowers play a big role in rooting out corporate crime and government misdeeds that take place behind closed doors. They also have a role in flagging environmental crimes that happen out-of-site on the high seas.

On April 16, a panel of environmentalists, advocates and lawyers will discuss marine pollution laws and the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes. The webinar will cover both the benefits and challenges of using “unconventional actors” in marine law compliance efforts.

Event sponsors include the Environmental Law Institute, the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) and National Whistleblower Center (NWC).

The groups note on website for the event that it is part of an ongoing series of discussions examining “how whistleblower laws, emerging technologies, and citizen engagement are transforming the landscape of environmental enforcement today. The series aims to build capacity among government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals about whistleblower considerations.”
Continue Reading Coming up: Learning how to use environmental whistleblowers to stop pollution at sea

If poachers and wildlife trafficking networks operate like international criminal syndicates, why not treat them that way? That’s one approach outlined in a bill reintroduced in Congress today designed to bolster efforts to use whistleblower rewards to stop wildlife crime. 
Continue Reading Bill would bolster reward programs that allow US agencies to fight wildlife crime with whistleblowers