Bipartisan whistleblower bill targets wildlife crime

July 19, 2022 – Wildlife crime threatens the existence of some of the world’s most expensive forests, coral reefs, fish and animals. But the profit motive behind wildlife crime is often unremarkable. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that the economic costs of illegal timber alone are up to $152 billion annually, affecting honest American businesses by flooding markets with cheap, illegally harvested timber.

The killing of endangered animals such as rhinos and elephants is not only horrific in the images posted on social media, but as the US Agency for International Development has put it, it is an illegal act worth “tens of billions” of dollars annually, and now constitutes one of the “largest” Companies in the world’s black markets.”

The same can be said for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. An estimated 32% of fish imported into the United States violate IUU requirements. This means that the fish are harvested in a way that destroys protected fisheries and coral reefs, kills endangered species, and is ultimately unsustainable. Once again, the profits from illegal fishing are huge. A recent study from the University of British Columbia estimates that the economic costs of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing alone are up to $50 billion annually.

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The true costs of wildlife crime far exceed purely economic factors. Wildlife crime has accelerated the unprecedented loss of biodiversity, overturned ecosystems, exacerbated the climate crisis, and pushed species to the brink of extinction. Although international laws and conventions aimed at combating wildlife crime have been passed, they are still very difficult to enforce.

In recent years, in the face of widespread criminal behavior that threatens priceless distinctive habitats and species, there has been pressure to harness the power of a unique law enforcement tool: the whistleblower. Inspired by the phenomenal success of the Whistleblower Award laws under the False Claims Act and the Dodd-Frank laws, wildlife advocates ranging from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are supporting the implementation of the provisions of the Wildlife Whistleblower Award.

For example, at its most recent global conference, attended by every major wildlife conservation organization and official representatives from the governments of more than 120 countries, the International Union for Conservation of Nature overwhelmingly adopted three separate resolutions calling for the use of whistleblower awards as a means to incentivize whistleblowers. wild.

IUCN resolutions are often used as points of reference by government bodies around the world as they grapple with critical conservation and development issues, and these recently adopted resolutions highlight the broad global interest in rewarding wildlife whistleblowers.

Whistleblower awards have proven to be the most effective means of motivating insiders to come forward and cooperate with authorities, allowing law enforcement to conserve resources and police crimes that would otherwise be difficult to detect. The effectiveness of whistleblower award programs transcends political boundaries. Former Trump-appointed Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton noted in a 2020 statement that “[o]For the past 10 years, the Whistleblower Program has been a critical component of the Commission’s efforts to expose whistleblowers and protect investors and the market, particularly when fraud is well-hidden or difficult to detect. (“Strengthening our Whistleblower Program” 9/23/2020)

At a celebration of National Whistleblower Day 2021, the current Biden-appointed Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler stated that the whistleblower program “helps us to always be better cops, carry out our mission, and protect investors from misconduct.” . (“Notes Prepared to Celebrate National Whistleblower Day” 7/30/2021)

In combating international bribery, an audit of US efforts by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development praised the Dodd-Frank Act’s “multi-faceted approach to international anti-corruption” as it provides strong incentives for qualified whistleblowers to report allegations of foreign bribery against exporters.“Implementation of the Phase 4 Report of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, United States,” 11/17/2020,)

The payment of prize money to wildlife whistleblowers is not without precedent in the United States. In fact, both the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, the two most prevalent wildlife crime laws in the country, include provisions allowing the payment of whistleblower prizes. However, these provisions were passed more than 40 years ago and fail to meet the criteria set by modern whistleblower award laws.

Notably, whistleblower reward payments under the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act are not mandatory. As in other updated and subsequently amended Discretionary Whistleblower Bounties laws (including the Securities Exchange Act and the IRS Whistleblower Act), the ability to leverage whistleblower rewards to access high-quality inside information about corrupt activities has not It hasn’t been fully used.

Rugged Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report From 2018 (“Combating Wildlife Trafficking: Opportunities Exist for Better Use of Bounty Financial,” 4/23/2018) on the use of wildlife whistleblower awards, I found that agencies did not prioritize bounty payments and rarely awarded whistleblowers. In the 11 fiscal years covered by the report, the Government Accountability Office found that US authorities paid just 27 wildlife whistleblower awards totaling about $205,000.

The Government Accountability Office has made a number of recommendations in order to make better use of the Wildlife Whistleblower Awards, but the laws remain heavily underutilized. A Freedom of Information Act request by Whistleblower Network News in 2021 revealed that since the 2018 Government Accountability Office report, there has only been one whistleblower award paid out under the Lacey and Endangered Species laws.

Thus, while there is a widespread belief that whistleblower awards can revolutionize wildlife crime enforcement, the provisions currently in place are ineffective. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the whistleblower award laws. When bonus payments are discretionary, whistleblower programs falter.

For example, in the more than 40 years payments under the False Claims Act were discretionary (between 1943-1986) no damages were made. Since the creation of mandatory damages under the False Claims Act in 1986, thousands of whistleblowers have been compensated and the government has recovered more than $70 billion from fraudsters. A similar revolution in stock whistles occurred with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010.

The Bipartisan Wildlife Protection and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2021 (HR 6059) contains a whistleblower reward clause that would update the Lacey Act. It has been accredited by every non-profit wildlife conservation organization, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Whether Congress passes HR 6059 or uses another approach to enhance law enforcement’s ability to successfully detect and prosecute wildlife crimes, it is clear that the Whistleblower provisions in the Lacey Act need to be updated to be effective.

The most urgent fixes, all of which are included in HR 6059, include:

• Arbitration decisions must be issued in a timely manner and subject to judicial review.

• Whistleblower awards are funded through sanctions collected by the United States as a result of the whistleblower’s original information. Taxpayers pay nothing. All money comes directly from fines and penalties paid by those who violate wildlife protection laws;

• Whistleblower offices are established to receive whistleblower advice, refer whistleblower information to appropriate law enforcement agencies, and communicate with whistleblowers on their cases;

• Establishing confidential and confidential reporting procedures. These are essential tools to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

If the United States intends to get serious about protecting wildlife, prosecuting illegal, unreported and unregulated hunting, and stopping illegal deforestation, the Wildlife Protection and Anti-Trafficking Act, or another similar wildlife whistleblower law, is needed. desperately to him. extinctions forever.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed under the Trust Principles to impartiality, independence, and freedom from bias. Westlaw Today is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

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