What is the Lacey Act?
The Lacey Act protects both plants and wildlife by creating penalties for violations, such as the illegal cultivation, buying, selling, possession, or trading of wildlife, fish, or plants. The Act also prohibits falsifying documents for the shipment of wildlife, which is a criminal penalty. Also, it prohibits the failure to mark wildlife shipments, which is a civil penalty.
The Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, through their agencies, enforce the Lacey Act. These agencies include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Criminal penalties for violating the Act are steep and can include prison time. The penalty for an individual is no more than one year in prison and a fine of $100,000 or twice the gross gain or loss. Criminal penalties for corporations are no more than five years of probation and a fine of $200,000 or twice the gross profit or loss. The government may also impose restitution and forfeitures.
The Lacey Act is one of the strongest and most comprehensive federal laws used to combat wildlife crime internationally and domestically. Persons who disclose original information of a violation of the Lacey Act should report their concerns to a whistleblower attorney. Rewards and protections for reporting such crimes may be available.
History and Amendments to the Lacey Act
Amendments over the years created a broader range of protection of species, such as amphibians, reptiles, and all fish and wildlife, in the Lacey Act. Amendments also expanded the definition of criminal activity and the various persons subject to criminal or civil penalties.
Below are a few significant amendments to the Lacey Act:
Lacey Act of 1900: The Lacey Act was introduced in 1900 by John Lacey, an Iowa Congressman, and signed into law by President William McKinley. The Act’s original intention was to preserve wild birds and game, making it a federal crime to poach game in one state and sell the bounty in another. The Lacey Act of 1900 also sought to curb the introduction of non-native birds or other animal species into the native ecosystem while supporting other existing state laws.
Lacey Act of 1969: amendments were made to the Lacey Act to include crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, and mollusks. Furthermore, a criminal penalty was established for such violations, with a maximum fine of $10,000 and a year of imprisonment. As for less extreme violations, the amendment also expanded civil penalties. Additionally, in this amendment, the “criminal violation” standard was more broadly defined as a “person who ‘knowingly and willfully committed a violation.”
Lacey Act of 1981: in response to an increase in illegal fishing activity, Congress removed “willfully” from the statute, making only “knowingly” the new standard. In addition to the existing plants and animal species protected under the previous amendments, this amendment also added indigenous plants.
Depending on the market value of the sale, the crime could be a misdemeanor or a felony. Civil penalties increased to a maximum of $10,000.
Felonies would subject individuals to a maximum penalty of $20,000 and up to five years in prison. Misdemeanors would subject individuals to $10,000 and up to one year in prison. Lastly, the Act allowed federal agents to make arrests without a warrant in cases with felony violations.
The most critical part of these amendments is the addition of a wildlife whistleblower provision. This provision authorized the Departments of Interior, Commerce, Treasury, and Agriculture to pay rewards to persons who disclose original information concerning wildlife crimes that result in successful enforcement actions.
Lacey Act of 1988: this amendment was passed in response to big game guides offering “commercial” hunting expeditions and who were considered immune from prosecution. The Act also prohibited falsifying documents for the shipment of wildlife, which is a criminal penalty. Also, it restricted the failure to mark wildlife shipments, which is a civil penalty.
Lacey Act of 2008: in response to a considerable increase in illegal logging, Congress passed this amendment to ban the illicit trading of sourced plants and/or plant products, such as timber, lumber, and paper. Importers must declare plants and plant products and provide complete documentation of the species, including name, quantity, value, and origin.
What violations does the Lacey Act cover?
The Act clarifies that it is a violation to remove, harvest, possess, transport, sell, or export wildlife and trade it illegally in the U.S. interstate or foreign commerce. However, violations of the Lacey Act are diverse. They include anyone taking wildlife from a protected area without a permit and failing to pay export fees.
- The illegal trading of wildlife or animal parts, such as rhinoceros’ horn, elephant ivory, tiger teeth, animal pelts, and other products of endangered species.
- Illegally harvested or traded timber and wood products.
- Wildlife taken, harvested, possessed, transported, sold, or exported in violation of an underlying law in the U.S. or a foreign country. Then, the wildlife must trade in the U.S. interstate or through foreign commerce.
- Violations can include taking wildlife from protected areas without a proper permit or failing to pay appropriate royalties or export fees.
Lacey Act Whistleblower Provisions
The whistleblower provision in the 1981 amendment authorizes the payment of monetary rewards to persons who disclose original information concerning wildlife crimes that result in successful enforcement actions.
The government uses the money collected from civil and criminal penalties to pay rewards. Furthermore, the Act does not mandate minimum or maximum percentages of the collected proceeds for whistleblower rewards. The whistleblower reward provision directs the Secretary to pay rewards to persons who furnish information leading to an arrest, conviction assessment or forfeiture from sums received as penalties, fines, or forfeitures.”
The law gives the agencies broad discretion to implement rules to reward whistleblowers and has no cap on the amount of an award or percentage of collected proceeds that a whistleblower can receive.
Contact one of our attorneys today if you have information about a Lacey Act violation. Strong reward laws like the False Claims Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and Dodd-Frank Act can also apply to wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal fishing.
For a complete overview of the wildlife trafficking whistleblower laws see:
Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Game-Changer in Wildlife Trafficking Detection and Deterrence
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Frequently Asked Questions
The Lacey Act is one of the strongest and most comprehensive federal laws used to combat wildlife crime internationally and domestically. It punishes criminals by creating penalties for cultivating, buying, selling, possessing, or trading wildlife, fish, or plants, as well as for the falsification of shipping documents – which is a criminal penalty and can include time in prison.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administer the Lacey Act. The APHIS is responsible for collecting declarations for imported plants and plant products, and defining the scope of plant materials that require a declaration.
Drafted by John Lacey, an Iowa Congressman, the Lacey Act was signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900. It has had significant amendments since then, including amendments in 1969, 1981, 1988, and in 2008. Each amendment has included updates to the rules, such as which violations are considered a misdemeanor versus a felony, which animal and plant species are included, and more recently, the industries subject to fines and penalties, such as illegal logging.
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