Whistleblower awards are available under many of the wildlife protection statutes for individuals reporting violations of these laws. These provisions have received relatively little promotion or attention, particularly compared to the whistleblower awards provisions of the False Claims Act (for fraud against the government), Dodd-Frank Act (for violations of the securities and commodities laws) and the IRS whistleblower program (for tax fraud).
Nevertheless, the financial rewards for wildlife whistleblowers are real, have strong Congressional backing and are likely to be doled out with more regularity as the illegal trafficking of precious plants and wildlife continues to increase.
Key wildlife protection statutes for which whistleblower awards are available are:
- The Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973, provides for the conservation and protection of threatened or endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they live. The law is based on recognition of the significant “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value” of the country’s vast array of native plants and animals, and concern that many of them are in danger of becoming extinct. The law bars the import, export, possession, sale, delivery, or transport of any species of endangered fish or wildlife. The statute provides for a whistleblower award from the proceeds of any penalties, fines or forfeitures recovered “to any person who furnishes information which leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property for any violation” of the law. The government designates the award amount as it deems appropriate. Click here for more on the Endangered Species Act, including the full text of the statute.
- The Lacey Act bans the illegal trafficking of fish, wildlife, plants, and plant products such as those made from illegally logged woods. It was enacted in 1900 as the first federal law protecting wildlife and today regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law. The law also prevents the spread of invasive or non-native species. Since 1983, the statute has provided for a whistleblower award from the proceeds of any penalties, fines, or forfeitures recovered “to any person who furnishes information which leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property for any violation” of the law. The government designates individual awards as it deems appropriate. Click here for more on the Lacey Act, including the full text of the statute.
- The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act, enacted in 1998, assists in the conservation of rhinoceros and tigers and prohibits the sale, import,and export of substances derived from any species of rhinoceros or tiger. The law was founded on the Congressional finding that the world’s rhinoceros population has been declining at an alarming rate—90% since 1970—and that all 5 subspecies of tiger are currently threatened with extinction in the wild, with only approximately 5,000 to 6,000 tigers remaining worldwide. Individuals providing information leading to the apprehension of violators of the statute may be eligible for cash rewards. Click here for more on the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act, including the full text of the statute.
- The Wild Bird Conservation Act was enacted in 1992 to protect exotic bird species and encourage wild bird conservation programs. The law limits imports of exotic bird species to ensure their populations are not harmed by international trade and that trade in such species is both biologically sustainable and beneficial to the species. The statute bars the import of certain designated exotic birds outside the law’s strict regulations and guidelines. Individuals providing information leading to the apprehension of violators of the statute may be eligible for cash rewards. Click here for more on the Wild Bird Conservation Act, including the full text of the statute.
- The Antarctic Conservation Act was enacted in 1978 to protect native mammals, birds, plants, and their ecosystems in Antarctica. It makes it illegal to, without a permit, take native mammals or birds, enter Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs), discharge designated waste, import certain Antarctic items into the US, or export them to another country. Individuals providing information leading to the apprehension of violators of the statute may be eligible for cash rewards. Click here for more on the Antarctic Conservation Act, and here for the full text of the statute.
In addition to these statutes, the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act, was enacted in 1978 for the purpose of improving fish and wildlife law enforcement and developing new methods for the prevention, detection, and reduction of violations of fish and wildlife laws. The statute was amended in 1982 to include whistleblower rewards for those reporting of violations of “any laws administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service relating to fish, wildlife, or plants.”
This broad provision now makes financial rewards for wildlife whistleblowers available under more than 40 wildlife protection laws, which in addition to those listed above, include the African Elephant Conservation Act; Airborne Hunting Act; Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act; Marine Mammal Protection Act; Migratory Bird Acts; National Wildlife Refuge System; American Fisheries Act; Dolphin Protection Act; Fisherman’s Protective Act; Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act; High Seas Fishing Compliance Act; Sustainable Fisheries Act; and Whaling Convention Act, to name just a few of the covered statues. Click here for more on the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act, including the full text of the statute.
In addition to these industry-specific wildlife protection statutes, it also is possible that the False Claims Act might apply to certain wildlife protection violations. For example, if certain wildlife protection permits are ignored or certain fees not paid, an argument could be made that the government has suffered some kind of financial loss from the illegal activity.
So when it comes to our precious plants or wildlife being misused, abused, or exploited, make sure you say something if you see something. Not only is it the right thing to do, you might just get a rich financial reward to boot.
To find out more about whether particular conduct is covered by a wildlife protection statute, contact us today.