Wildlife Whistleblowers

By Hollyn Walters

This week’s World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi will address five major threats to the oceans: overfishing, coastal pollution, habitat destruction, warming, and acidification. The goal of the summit is to build conceptual bridges across governments and organizations in order to produce technical, financial, and governmental solutions to ocean harm.

Leaders in sustainability and ocean economies will develop partnerships and initiatives between advocacy organizations and governments to promote the healing of our oceans.

oceanThe event, which was organized by The Economist, will bring together policy-makers, technology innovators and ocean entrepreneurs to explore how they can work together to promote marine sustainability.

While advocates in Abu Dhabi are building their environmentally-friendly bridges, citizens across the world can assist by blowing the whistle on those who contribute to the destruction of the oceans.Whistleblowers are essential to the dissolution of environmental criminal activity occurring in all public and private sectors. 
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The United Nations has named March 3, Sunday, as World Wildlife Day.This year’s theme is “Life below water,” and events took pace Friday at the United Nations in New York and around the globe.

They include shoreline trash collection in British Columbia, a photo contest on the shores of  Lake Victoria in Uganda and a youth art competition. Siem Reap, Cambodia will host a “day of exciting wildlife awareness activities and game for kids.” With the aquatic theme, the event’s film festival offers movies on whales, overfishing, penguins and pollution. Find trailers for many on the event’s video channel.

National Whistleblower Center and the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) offered a webinar Tuesday on using whistleblowers address wildlife crimes like poaching, overfishing, habitat destruction and trafficking. The center’s Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program partners with conservation and anti-trafficking groups to expand and strengthen wildlife whistleblower programs. They see whistleblower rewards as a powerful but underused tool that could bolster the enforcement of wildlife protection laws.


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From Terra Verde, a weekly public radio program on environmental news.

KPFA logoHas the US government been failing to take advantage of an existing wildlife crime whistleblower program to fight against wildlife crime? Terra Verde host and Earth Island Journal editor Maureen Nandini Mitra explores this subject, as well a new wildlife crime whistleblower bill that’s making its way through Congress right now, with environmental journalist Richard Schiffman, and Stephen Kohn, a Washington, DC-based attorney and the executive director of the National Whistleblower Center.


In The Earth Island Journal story, Schiffman describes Kohn’s argument that “the best way to fight wildlife crime is to tap informants within trafficking groups — the poachers or the middlemen who transport illegal wildlife parts to a final destination — to help bust crime rings preying on endangered species. Enlisting whistleblowers in the Gulf and across totoaba smuggling routes, he believes, could have helped law enforcement break up what he calls the “totoaba cartel.
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On January 30, 2019, Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2019 (H.R. 864). This bipartisan, groundbreaking legislation enhances the ability of informants worldwide to detect and report wildlife crimes. It also strengthens the laws criminalizing trafficking.

In a joint press release, both representatives recognized the importance of halting poachers, traffickers, and transnational criminal organizations—all of which are responsible for exacerbating the global extinction crisis. Furthermore, as Congressman Garamendi points out, “Our bipartisan bill advances American leadership in tackling the global wildlife trafficking and poaching crisis at no cost to the American taxpayer.”
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Laws on the books designed to protect wildlife whistleblowers have been underutilized, according to a spring report from the Government Accounting Office. Now, two groups devoted to wildlife protection have joined with the National Whistleblower Center to help ensure that U.S. agencies use the tools they have to protect animals and fisheries and prevent trafficking.

Thinking Animals United is an advocacy group that works “to galvanize worldwide support for the care, protection, and conservation of animals and other species.” It has signed an agreement with the NWC to “develop joint endeavors, and exchange information with regards to addressing the relationship between environmental crime, economic growth, and national security,” according to a statement from the two groups.
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corruption TimberProtecting and incentivizing whistleblowers is essential to combat environmental crimes

The world is facing daunting environmental challenges, many exacerbated by corruption. A number of the planet’s protected species are disappearing rapidly, due in part to the illegal trade in flora and fauna, and corruption comes into play as traffickers often rely on fraudulent paperwork to move parts from endangered species and illegal timber across borders.
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Fresh water turtlesA recent investigation of wildlife trafficking highlights the importance of improving whistleblower incentives in the wildlife crimes sphere. Through “Operation Dragon,” the Wildlife Justice Commission (“WJC”) investigated the ties between the trafficking of endangered and CITES-listed freshwater turtles and the corruption that facilitates that illicit trade. Over the course of two years, WJC used undercover investigators to document operations of eight major trafficking networks in South Asia and the corrupt customs and transportation officials that consistently enabled the trafficking. The investigation allowed law enforcement to significantly disrupt these networks, arresting 30 individuals and seizing over 6,000 freshwater turtles. Wholesale value for a batch of 6,000 averages $3 million.
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Vaquita-loaded-in-truck-whistleblower program not implemented U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unable to account for millions of dollars Congress allocated to pay whistleblower incentives.

According to an exposé by environmental journalist Richard Schiffman published today by  Earth Island Journal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has no “proactive whistleblower program despite receiving $13 million” from the federal government earmarked to pay whistleblower incentive rewards. The report states that in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) filed by the National Whistleblower Center, the FWS admitted that it is unable to account for most of the funds Congress allocated for this purpose. Requested records found that the agency can only account for $13,704 of the $5.6 million granted to it during the period between 2003 and 2016.
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Wildlife whistleblowersThe International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) was formed in 1989 by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment on the need for greater collaboration between environmental compliance and enforcement actors globally. To date, it remains the only global organization focused exclusively on improving compliance with environmental law through effective compliance promotion and enforcement at all levels of governance. By partnering with the National Whistleblower Center, INECE hopes to help address the relationship between environmental crime, economic growth, and national security.
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National Whistleblower Center urges denial of destruction of documents On October 24, 2018, the Department of Interior (DOI) sent a request to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asking for permission to destroy documents from every agency within the Department of Interior. These agencies include the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and others. The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) says this request should be denied.
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