Wildlife Protection

Fish and Wildlife Service's Inspection Program Needs Strengthening Gao ID: RCED-95-8 December 29, 1994

Growing demand throughout the world for wildlife and wildlife parts, ranging from rhino horns to bear gall bladders, now threatens some wildlife populations. Although the full extent of illegal trade is unknown, the value of such trade into and out of the United States is estimated at up to $250 million annually. Despite recent increases in the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) wildlife inspection program, the program has had difficulty in accomplishing its mission of monitoring wildlife and intercepting wildlife trade. Given current budget constraints and downsizing within the federal government, increases in program funding are unlikely. GAO raises questions about the program's efficiency and effectiveness. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement is likely to increase wildlife trade among the countries that are party to the agreement--the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The expected rise in trade will increase the workload of FWS inspectors, who are already stretched thin along the U.S. borders. Wildlife inspectors, federal agency officials, and conservation and trade groups cited advantages and disadvantages to transferring FWS' wildlife inspection program to the Customs Service.

GAO found that: (1) FWS has not fully met its wildlife inspection program mission of monitoring and intercepting illegal wildlife shipments despite recent budget increases; (2) the FWS inspection program needs more wildlife inspectors, safety equipment, and administrative support; (3) FWS does not have complete, accurate, and timely data on the inspection program; (4) FWS has proposed increasing user fees to produce additional program funding; (5) the government's failure to assess penalties, fines, and other punitive actions against violators does little to deter new offenses and lowers inspectors' morale; (6) budget cuts and downsizing efforts further jeopardize the program's inspection mission; (7) NAFTA is likely to increase wildlife trade among the treaty parties, which will increase the wildlife inspectors' workload; (8) FWS believes NAFTA will have the greatest impact at the Mexican border; (9) transferring the wildlife inspection program to Customs would provide greater inspection coverage due to Customs' larger, more dispersed inspection force and automated inspection system; and (10) the disadvantages of transferring the inspection program to Customs include Customs inspectors' lack of wildlife identification expertise, Customs' likely failure to emphasize wildlife inspection, difficulties in coordinating with FWS to protect endangered species, and potential increased costs.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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