In our series on H.R. 5697, we first explained the extent of the extinction crisis in part I and the shortcomings of regulators (as laid by out the Government Accountability Office) charged with stopping wildlife trafficking in part II. In parts III, IV, and V, we explained how the bill adds vital new tools for protecting species by incentivizing whistleblowers and making illegal wildlife trafficking a predicate offense under RICO. These new tools, if implemented and executed effectively, could dramatically curtail illicit wildlife trafficking.
Some of the bill’s most critical provisions enhance already-established conservation efforts. Section 5 will create the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) International Wildlife Conservation Program, consolidating the International Affairs and Wildlife Without Borders programs, and the divisions of Management Authority and Scientific Authority. Merging these various branches will create a stronger and more effective program to combat trafficking and improve wildlife conservation efforts via inter-agency cooperation.
It also ensures that this new program will be comprehensive in scope, and includes important conservation strategies. The bill would provide for the augmentation of wildlife conservation through capacity-building for regional, grassroots organizations. The bill also focuses conservation efforts on the most-at-risk species. Namely, H.R. 5697 promotes in-country conservation efforts both for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species and at-risk wildlife globally.
The conservation efforts will be further strengthened by the new whistleblower and RICO provisions. Under Section 13 of the bill, all the money obtained by the government from the RICO and money laundering provisions of the statute “shall be used for the benefit of the species impacted by the applicable violation.” Sanctuaries for elephants, rhinos, tigers, great apes, marine turtles, various birds, and other critically endangered animals would all benefit from the provision.
And these benefits for conservation programs could be considerable. Individual informants will come forward in greater numbers because of the larger whistleblower rewards and the improved efficacy of whistleblower programs, while the enhanced RICO and money laundering provisions will make it easier for prosecutors to go after leading trafficking syndicates.
For all of these reasons, the bill is supported by the world’s leading conservation organizations including World Wildlife Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, Humane Society Legislative Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Animal Welfare Institute, and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Conservation efforts are integral to protecting the world’s most endangered species. By ensuring that criminal penalties are used for conservation, H.R. 5697 will redistribute funds from wildlife poachers to wildlife protectors. This endeavor is receiving support from Republicans and Democrats alike. The bill was introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK); co-sponsors of the bill are also bipartisan. Even in today’s politically polarized climate, smart legislation to halt wildlife trafficking should be a cause that we can all get behind.