Wildlife Protection:

Enforcement of Federal Laws Could Be Strengthened

T-RCED-92-26: Published: Feb 3, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 1992.

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GAO discussed the: (1) adequacy of federal laws and treaties for protesting fish and wildlife; and (2) extent to which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) enforces those laws and treaties. GAO noted that: (1) existing federal laws and international treaties generally provide FWS with sufficient authority to protect wildlife, and in those instances where a lack of statutory authority creates enforcement problems, FWS special agents can compensate under other wildlife protection laws or treaties; (2) although the number of crimes against wildlife has reportedly increased, FWS has not received adequate funding to meet its expanded work load; (3) staffing and funding shortfalls have forced FWS regions to selectively enforce wildlife protection legislation; (4) the Department of the Interior agrees that FWS needs to improve its documentation of reported or suspected crimes against wildlife and has instructed FWS to issue a policy memorandum to reemphasize its current case management and reporting procedures; and (5) although FWS often relies on assistance from state agencies to conduct large-scale investigations of illegal commercial operations and enforce wildlife protection laws, FWS has been increasingly unable to respond to state requests for assistance because of stuffing and funding shortfalls. GAO believes that although Interior has been developing an information system capable of recording suspected crimes against wildlife, it needs to: (1) ensure that agents report known or suspected violations; and (2) document all state requests for assistance.

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