Department of the Interior
NATION MARKS LACEY ACT CENTENNIAL, 100 YEARS OF FEDERAL WILDLIFE LAW ENFORCEMENT
One hundred years ago, on May 25, President William McKinley signed the Lacey Act, givingthe United States its first far-reaching federal wildlife protection law and setting the stage for a century of progress in safeguarding wildlife resources.
"The Lacey Act had an immediate impact on the rampant commercial exploitation of wildlife by giving game wardens a powerful enforcement tool," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Today we not only mark the anniversary of one of our most important conservation statutes, we also celebrate a century of law enforcement contributions to protecting wildlife resources."
Passage of the Lacey Act in 1900 was prompted by growing concern about interstate profiteering in illegally taken game. The passenger pigeon was already well on its way to being hunted into extinction, and populations of other bird species were also declining in a number of states.
Drafted and pushed through Congress by conservation-minded Representative John Lacey of Iowa, the Act made it illegal to transport from one state or territory to another any wild animals or birds killed in violation of state or territorial law. It also banned the importation of injurious wildlife that threatened crop production and horticulture in this country.
In its original version, the Lacey Act focused on helping states protect their native game animals. Early prosecutions documented large-scale interstate trafficking in illegally taken wildlife. In 1901, for example, 48 men in Illinois were charged under the new law for illegally shipping more than 22,000 quail, grouse, and ducks into the state. In New York, enforcement officers recovered more than 40,000 illegally traded game birds from a cold storage facility in Brooklyn.
Amendments in 1981 overhauled the Act, reworking many of its provisions and increasing the penalties for wildlife trafficking.
On the global front, felony Lacey Act convictions were secured in cases involving caviar smuggling, international coral trafficking, and illegal trade of exotic reptiles. Service wildlife inspectors, stationed at major ports of entry and border crossings, stopped shipments imported in violation of foreign conservation laws and international treaties and enforced regulations that require humane transport of live animals.
Combating the unlawful commercial exploitation of native species the problem addressed by the original Lacey Act remains an enforcement priority for the Service. The agency polices international wildlife trade and addresses such threats to wildlife resources as habitat destruction, invasive species, and environmental contaminants. Its enforcement work also includes protecting resources and the public on national wildlife refuges, a job carried out by a force of refuge officers.
"The Lacey Act centennial closes out a century of on-the-ground work to preserve our wildlife heritage," Clark said. "We're proud of the contributions of federal wildlife law enforcement officers and applaud their continued efforts to make a difference for wildlife."
FACTS ABOUT THE LACEY ACT
Passed by Congress in 1900, the Lacey Act was the first federal law to address wildlife protection nationwide.
The Lacey Act of 1900 also:
Required wildlife to be clearly marked when shipped in interstate commerce.
Authorized the federal government to take measures needed to preserve and restore game bird populations.
In 1945, Congress added language to the Act banning the importation of wildlife under "inhumane or unhealthful" conditions.
In 1981, growing concern about "massive illegal trade in fish and wildlife, their parts and products, and wild plants" promoted Congress to overhaul the Lacey Act to make it a more effective tool for protecting wildlife resources.
The Lacey Act Amendments of 1981:
Expanded the definition of wildlife and extended protection to rare plant species.
Incorporated protections for fish, which had been addressed previously under a separate federal law (the Black Bass Act of 1926).
Added American Indian tribal laws and federal treaties to the list of underlying laws upheld Increased maximum civil penalties.
Added a felony punishment scheme for violations involving domestic or international wildlife trafficking.
The Lacey Act Today
Today the Act prohibits the import, export, transport, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of fish, wildlife, or plants in interstate or foreign commerce that were taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of state, tribal, foreign, or U.S. law.
The Lacey Act makes trafficking in virtually any illegally acquired wildlife a federal crime. The violation of a state, tribal, foreign, or other federal wildlife law is a prerequisite for Lacey Act charges based on the interstate or international movement of wildlife.
The Lacey Act also makes it illegal to mislabel wildlife shipments, bring injurious species into the country, and import live wildlife under inhumane conditions.
Those who knowingly violate the Lacey Act face maximum penalties of up to five years in prison and fines as high as $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.
Civil penalties may run as high as $10,000.
Those convicted of felony offenses under the Lacey Act may be required to forfeit vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other equipment used to commit the crime in addition to any fish, wildlife, or plants involved.