Wildlife Whistleblowers

Those lucky enough to get a summer vacation at the beach or in the mountains should know that whistleblowers play a role in protecting the beautiful places we visit. A cruise ship engineer reported illegal dumping. A federal environmental analyst revealed that he was told to reverse his findings to favor a developer. Environmental activists

Whistleblowers often speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. This week, several stories touched on efforts to protect fish and farm animals.

  • A new, EU-based “Fishyleaks” website allows anonymous reporting of overfishing and other violations of fishing industry rules. From the Guardian:

The group says it has received footage of fishing boats illegally dumping non-valuable dead fish at sea. In March, it accused government agencies of turning a blind eyes to “rampant” rule-breaking in the fishing industry after no undersized cod were reported landed last year, despite EU regulations that boats are no longer allowed to discard any undersized fish they catch.

Whistleblower laws and some reporting programs are complex, so here at the NWC, whistleblowers are advised to have legal representation. And, the security of online reporting programs can vary. Fishyleaks acknowledges that “there are always some risks involved,” and they offer tips on how to minimize exposure.
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CNN has caught up with Steve Spangle, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblower. In June, Spangle talked to  High Country News about what he described as “shenanigans” around a proposed housing development in Arizona.

Put on hold because of environmental concerns in 2017, the project was back on track after what CNN describes as “a secret meeting” between the developer and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The High Country News interview notes that the USFWS twice warned the project would have “appreciable” effects on wildlife, including rare species such as the jaguar and yellow-bellied cuckoo. Spangle says he changed the project’s requirements under pressure from superiors at the Department of the Interior, an assertion the department has denied.

Spangle, now retired, decided he needed to explain his 2017 decision lifting objections to the construction of a 13,000-acre “Villages at Vigneto” housing and golf course development on the San Pedro River southern Arizona.

“I felt the public should know that some shenanigans had taken place. It didn’t seem like the right way to do business,” he told High Country News. In this case, he said he changed the project’s requirements under pressure from superiors at the Department of the Interior, an assertion the department has denied.

He had more to say to CNN this week.
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Citizens and activists can help stop environmental crime, but they need to know which laws apply, how to collect evidence and when to get a lawyer.

Different approaches to the role of citizens in collecting and reporting evidence of environmental crime were discussed last week by a three panelists at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC.

In many cases, there is no meaningful law enforcement to stop environmental crimes. That’s where citizens can come in.

By understanding how to collect evidence and navigate whistleblower programs, anyone can help enforce environmental laws. Anyone includes, NGO staff, those impacted by crime or insiders, such as cruise ship crews.

John Kostyack, director of National Whistleblower Center, talked about a range of existing federal laws with provisions that reward citizens who come forward with credible information about environmental crime.  Shaun Goho of the environmental law clinic at Harvard Law School talked about how the courts are likely to interpret evidence and expert testimony. Stevie Lewis of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science said the EPA has been slow to act on the recommendations in a 2016 report on promoting citizen science. But, her group hasn’t.

Kostyack started his talk with a slide of a small, endangered porpoise known as the vaquita, according to a video of the event.

“It’s really a fitting symbol of what we’re up against,” he said. “The forces that are driving this beautiful animal to extinction in its home in the Gulf of California are the same forces that are driving much of the environmental devastation around the world and those are the forces of crime.”


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A guest post from new environmental video network   

By Tadzio Mac Gregor Schneider

The WaterBear Network (“WBN”)  is an interactive video on-demand platform dedicated to the planet. The WBN is built on three primary pillars: Watch, Join, and Save.

The network will be going live in 2020. Join our growing community to enjoy and engage with the ultimate worldwide environmental initiatives.

WBN members will be inspired by documentaries, series, short videos.They will join a fast-growing global community through our advanced interactive platform, and be able to take action to help save the planet by participating in and contributing to local and global initiatives.

Our mission is to connect, inform and empower individuals, companies and other organizations across the world to take actions that will have a positive impact on our planet.


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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.


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It’s Time for Facebook to be Sanctioned for Misleading Shareholders and the Public About Terror and Hate Speech on its Website 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now has all the information it needs to sanction Facebook for its dishonesty about terror and hate content on its website, thanks to a petition filed by a whistleblower working with the National Whistleblower Center (NWC). Today, the Associated Press published an explosive story describing and confirming the key findings in the petition. 
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Wildlife trafficking on Facebook took a hit last week, with  Agence France-Press (AFP) reporting that five men were arrested in Indonesia in connection with selling Komodo dragons and other wild animals through Facebook

According to AFP:

The vast Southeast Asian archipelago nation’s dense tropical rainforests boast some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and it has for years been a key source and transit point for animal trafficking.

East Java police said they arrested the suspects on Java island for allegedly trafficking the large lizard, as well as bearcats, cockatoos and cassowary birds. The Komodo dragons can be sold for $1,000 to $1,400 each, they told AFP.  
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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.”
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Corrupt government officials and informants who fear retribution. These are some of the challenges faced by citizens who become involved in helping enforce illegal logging regulations.

Three panelists discussed these and other forestry crime issues at March 21 webinar on “Citizen enforcement in the forestry sector”– Melissa Blue Sky, of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL); Ruth Noguerón, of the World Resources Institute and  Shelley Gardner, Illegal Logging Program Coordinator, USDA Forest Service. Each touched on the issue.

Interpol estimates that illegal timber comprises 15-30% of the global timber trade. That amounts to between $51 and $152 billion worth of wood every year.

A study of illegal timber harvesting in Peru found that exporters are adept at finding new ways to evade export controls, Blue Sky said.

For example, harvesting modalities not always subject oversight in Peru. Timber is “red flagged” as illegal but exported anyway– often to countries without timber regulations. In some cases, documentation about the source of the timber is manipulated.

“In many cases, it involves that active participation of government officials and until they are held accountable for that, you don’t get at the root of the problem,” Blue Sky said.


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