Wildlife Whistleblowers

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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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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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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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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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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