Confidential Fish & Wildlife Service Documents Released Under FOIA Demonstrate Importance of Whistleblowers in Combatting Wildlife Trade

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Confidential Fish & Wildlife Service Documents Released Under FOIA Demonstrate Importance of Whistleblowers in Combatting Wildlife Trade

Washington, DC | September 16, 2019 – The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) released a special report on the role of whistleblowers in combatting wildlife crime on Saturday, September 14th, as part of a presentation by NWC founder and board chairman, Stephen Kohn, at the Thinking Animals United’s 2019 Rethinking Animals Summit in New York City. After filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, & Treasury, NWC found that the whistleblower reward programs created by Congress were virtually nonexistent in three of these departments and that the only operative program, at the Interior Department, is facing serious challenges in light of the growing threat of international wildlife trafficking.

The NWC report, based on the whistleblower files from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (FWS) as well as an independent investigation from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), shows that FWS enforcement agents greatly value whistleblowers, but at least through 2017, this appreciation is generally not reflected in meaningful rewards. Given the critical role that whistleblowers play in wildlife law enforcement cases and given the risks they often taking in disclosing information about criminality, NWC finds that legislative reform is needed.

The report identifies five critical needs for the whistleblower programs at the four departments:

  • Mandatory rewards for those who provide original information on wildlife crime, with the size of the reward tied to the value of the whistleblower’s information to prosecution success;
  • Application to transnational crime
  • Stronger penalties
  • Recovered monies directed to conservation efforts, and
  • Agency-specific whistleblower plans, including communication strategies to raise public awareness about these programs.

The NWC report explains how each of these needs is fully addressed in the pending Wildlife Conservation & Anti-Trafficking Act (H.R.864), introduced earlier this year by Representatives Garamendi (D-CA) and Young (R-AK). This bill is modeled after successful whistleblower protection laws including the False Claims Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and tax, commodity, securities, and auto safety laws.

NWC’s Executive Director John Kostyack stated,

International wildlife trafficking is one of the greatest threats to the world’s biological diversity. We are at great risk of losing elephants, rhinos and other treasured species in our lifetimes, as well as badly harming the many communities that depend on a healthy natural resource base for their economic survival. Our report’s findings paint a grim picture of the battle against the illegal wildlife trade because the key agencies charged with tackling this problem do not have the whistleblower programs we need. H.R. 864 must be passed so that the U.S. can make its fair contribution to ending this global crisis.

For more information about the report and general press inquiries, please contact Nick Younger at nick.younger@whistleblowers.org.

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