Wildlife Whistleblowers

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 into 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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Grey-rhino-in-the-wildToday, September 22, is World Rhino Day. Rhino numbers have declined dramatically over recent years as a result of poaching for their horns, which is believed to have medicinal value in some Asian countries. Whistleblower reward laws are a crucial tool for halting illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking, and can be especially important to protecting rhinos.

Supporting whistleblowers can serve as an effective tactic in fighting illegal wildlife trafficking, poaching, and deforestation. Whistleblower provisions in the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as others, incentivize whistleblowers to come forward with information, such as tips about wildlife trafficking, by providing monetary rewards to the whistleblower.
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