Wildlife Protection

Enforcement of Federal Laws Could Be Strengthened Gao ID: RCED-91-44 April 26, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether: (1) federal statutes and international treaties provided sufficient authority to protect wildlife, particularly migratory waterfowl; and (2) the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) adequately enforced those statutes and treaties.

GAO found that: (1) with the exception of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, the 11 federal statutes and 5 international treaties provided sufficient enforcement authority for FWS; (2) the lack of warrantless search and seizure authority in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act hampered agents' efforts to investigate suspected violations; (3) the issue of whether hybrid species were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 presented enforcement problems, since the only alternative to conclusively prove an animal's species was to destroy and examine it; (4) although new and amended legislation substantially increased FWS responsibilities for protecting species, the number of FWS special agents decreased by 9 percent; (5) due to insufficient funds, some special agents were deskbound and unable to perform their basic responsibilities for months at a time; (6) staffing and funding shortfalls resulted in the selective enforcement of wildlife protection legislation; (7) FWS lacked adequate information regarding the extent of suspected crimes it was unable to investigate and the effectiveness of its law enforcement methods; and (8) joint FWS-state investigations of large-scale illegal commercial operations and massive illegal harvesting of waterfowl worked well, but reductions in FWS staffing and operating funds, coupled with its focus on large-scale operations, rendered FWS unable to respond to many state requests for assistance.


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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