May 08, 2018

Wyden-Requested Investigation Shows Ineffective Use of Authority to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, Protect Endangered Species

GAO Investigation Finds Endangered Species Conservation Funds Have Been Shortchanged for Decades

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today announced findings from an independent investigation he sought showing that government agencies responsible for protecting endangered species are failing to effectively use authority Congress provided to combat wildlife trafficking in the United States. 

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation requested by Wyden found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are underusing financial incentives meant to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.

“The Government Accountability Office’s investigation shows the agencies responsible for combating wildlife trafficking and protecting endangered species are simply not doing enough,” Wyden said. “At a minimum, the agencies must begin using the authority Congress has given them to truly encourage whistleblowers to come forward and report illegal smuggling and harvesting at our borders and in our backyards.”

The investigation also found that NOAA did not transfer funds collected from violations of fish and wildlife conservation laws to a special conservation fund, despite a three-decade-old requirement under the Endangered Species Act. The multi-million dollar fund, called the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation fund, pays for conservation work in Oregon and other states across the country. 

In response to the findings, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross agreed to begin properly accounting for and transferring fines, fees, penalties and forfeitures into the fund.

“The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund has provided millions of dollars to protect critical habitat for salmon and other endangered species in Oregon and across the country,” Wyden said. “We now know much more funding would have been available for habitat conservation if the Commerce Department had been following the law.

The GAO found the Commerce Department lacked procedures to track these violations or to identify the appropriate funds for eventual use in new conservation projects like habitat restoration.

From 2010-2016, nine Oregon counties benefited from more than $8 million in grants from the fund. The fund is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and currently awards more than $50 million a year in conservation grants from this fund nationwide.

“Critical fish and wildlife protection projects in Oregon and nationwide will now get the additional funding they should have been getting all along,” Wyden said.

Read the GAO’s findings here and here.