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Fighting Wildlife Crime amid Bureaucracy and Solutions

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Sam Jojola

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Background

“This article was originally published for World Animal News in November, 2015 and titled “Wildlife Crimes: Why Is It So Difficult to Enforce Laws”. This is an updated version that includes reference to a 2016 GAO report detailing the shortcomings and successes of combating wildlife trafficking. It often seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are some positive changes, but they are slow.”

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Global Anti-Poaching Act of 2015

The passage of the Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494) through the House on June 25, 2015 was long overdue and very encouraging news for wildlife law enforcement. It will greatly assist in addressing the rapid expansion of wildlife criminal syndicates and terrorist groups globally. Finally, after decades of “paralysis by analysis” there is some political motivation in the U.S. to deal with the exponential growth of wildlife crime here and around the world. Why has it taken so long?

The most recent GAO report dated September, 2016 titled Combating Wildlife Trafficking: Agencies are taking a range of actions but the task force lacks performance targets for assessing progress: http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/679968.pdf

Perhaps there will be another GAO report this year to show measurable progress.

Layers of bureaucracy and political meddling

When one examines the primary agency responsible for investigating wildlife crimes on the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement (USFWS/OLE) has been and is the lead entity to do so. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is primarily a biological entity under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior that oversees a host of at least nine (9) agencies, like the U.S. Park Service (USPS), the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to name a few. The USFWS/OLE is just one of fifteen (15) National programs managed by USFWS. In essence many layers of government within the Department of the Interior which is not a law enforcement entity like the Department of Justice. Other law enforcement agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, ICE, and the Secret Service, are not under the umbrella of a non-law enforcement entity that can sometimes run political interference and impede wildlife investigations and protection. More

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Washington State University silences researcher to placate ranchers and politicians

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SOURCE:  SEATTLE TIMES

A motion-triggered wildlife camera at the den site of the Profanity Peak pack captures pack members on camera last June 30. Seven pack members were killed by Department of Fish and Wildlife after the wolves killed cattle grazing on public land at the Colville National Forest. (WSU wolf livestock research program)

A WAR OVER WOLVES

Outspoken researcher says his university and lawmakers silenced and punished him

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times environment reporter

By a slow slide of river deep in Washington’s wolf country, Robert Wielgus laughs at the tattoo on his arm of Four Claws, the grizzly that almost killed him.

“I would rather face charging grizzly bears trying to kill me than politicians and university administrators, because it is over quickly,” said Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University.

A Harley-riding, self-described adrenaline junkie at home in black motorcycle leathers with a Stetson and a .357 in the pickup, Wielgus, 60, is no tweed-jacket academic. For decades he has traveled North America wrangling bears, cougars and wolves to collar and study their behavior, including collaborations with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Wielgus now finds himself crosswise with ranchers, lawmakers and WSU administrators — and their lobbyists. He’s lost grant funding for his summer research, has been forbidden from talking to media in his professional role and has been reviewed — and cleared — for scientific misconduct.

To understand why involves a look at state policy concerning a menagerie of animals: cougars, sheep, cattle and wolves. And one more animal: homo sapiens.

In Washington, it turns out, wolves and livestock are getting along better than the people who manage and study them.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national nonprofit specializing in government scientist whistleblower protection, in April filed a 12-page complaint against WSU officials, alleging the university punished and silenced Wielgus to placate ranchers and state legislators who objected to his research. WSU officials declined to comment for this story, citing possible litigation.

Read the rest of this story HERE.

Kirsten Stade of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), on Wild Horse & Burro Radio (Wed., 2/24/16)

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Join us on Wild Horse Wednesdays®, Feb. 24, 2016 More

Dept. of Interior Whistleblower: Records Were Altered

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“A whistleblower complained that the bureau in Sacramento erased records within an Interior Department database and altered spreadsheets in an effort to hide mismanagement of collections under the agency’s control…”

Thank you to whistleblower Patrick Williams: “They more or less wanted to sweep it under the rug,” Williams said in an interview. “They were telling me to change things they didn’t want to see in the record and not to record information that tribal members might want to see as part of a repatriation request.”

A Department of Interior agency is being investigated for breaking the law. We need to wait to find out the results of the investigation, but it is of concern that databases and spreadsheets could be, and may have been, altered within the Department of Interior. Sally Jewell, what assurances do American taxpayers have that this isn’t a widespread practice? What steps can you take to make sure this doesn’t happen?

Secretary-Jewell-200x278 Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell (Photo: Tami Heilemann)

SOURCE: santafenewmexican.com

Agency accused of violating law on remains, relics

By Susan Montoya Bryan the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, — An independent federal agency is calling for an investigation into allegations that U.S. officials ignored a law requiring them to catalog, preserve and ultimately return human remains and relics to American Indian tribes.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has directed the Interior Department to investigate whether U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials have violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act while managing collections of remains and artifacts amassed during the construction and management of dams and waterways throughout California and parts of Nevada and Oregon.

A whistleblower complained that the bureau in Sacramento erased records within an Interior Department database and altered spreadsheets in an effort to hide mismanagement of collections under the agency’s control, resulting in hundreds of remains and artifacts being lost, boxed up for storage or loaned to museums and universities without the ability to track them.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it hopes the inquiry will be expanded to cover more agencies and more parts of the West.

“These are relics that do not belong to the American government,” said Jeff Ruch, the group’s executive director. “The point of the law is they belong to the tribes from which they came. If these were your ancestors’ remains and they were boxed up someplace where you couldn’t get any information about them, you’d be pretty angry.”

A spokesman with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific office could not immediately comment, saying he was unaware of the whistleblower’s case and the call for an investigation.

The federal government’s handling of Native American remains and artifacts has been criticized for years. Following a critical report by the Government Accountability Office in 2010, the Interior Department asked for more money and at least eight years to bolster compliance with the law.

But progress has been slow and frustrating, and communication with tribes is still lacking, said D. Bambi Kraus, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. “It’s encouraging that this is being investigated,” she said.

A filing with the Office of Special Counsel shows Patrick Williams, who used to work as a museum specialist in archaeology in the bureau’s Mid-Pacific office, raised concerns with his supervisors that the agency was not complying with the law’s requirements once it stopped keeping detailed records of remains and relics. He also said the office was not filling out the proper paperwork when loaning out artifacts, essentially making the items untraceable.

The office routinely failed to notify tribes of long-stored and newly uncovered remains and funerary objects, Williams said. Some of the collections date back to the 1970s, when the federal government was building the New Melones dam and reservoir in California.

“They more or less wanted to sweep it under the rug,” Williams said in an interview. “They were telling me to change things they didn’t want to see in the record and not to record information that tribal members might want to see as part of a repatriation request.”

Williams said his supervisors told him creating detailed files of the remains and artifacts to comply with the law was “too complicated and required too much time and effort.” He said his concerns resulted in hostility and threats of termination.

“I’m not about to break the law for anybody, and they wanted me to go along with it,” Williams said. “I would rather step out, and that’s what I did.”

A combination of budget cuts and the low priority assigned by bureau managers resulted in responsibilities under the law falling by the wayside, Williams said.

While it’s unclear how widespread the compliance problem is, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said it wouldn’t be surprised if similar things were happening elsewhere given that budget shortfalls and other priorities are challenges found throughout the agency.

“This is a statutory duty they feel they can ignore,” Ruch said. “The most important part is tribes aren’t being consulted, so there’s nothing to prevent this from going on for years and years.”

The Office of Special Counsel has given the Interior Department 60 days to investigate the allegations and report back.

 

 

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