The Southwest Region covers the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma and shares over 1,650 miles of border with Mexico. The Region contains diverse fish and wildlife resources, including over 250 species of fish, wildlife, and plants that are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. It encompasses habitats that range from lowland deserts and seemingly endless plains to gulf coast beaches and towering mountain peaks.
Wildlife law enforcement efforts are coordinated with State game and fish agencies and with Federal counterparts; new partnerships include increased liaison with the U.S. Marshals Service in the Southwest. Special agents and wildlife inspectors in the Region provide law enforcement support to more than 40 National Wildlife Refuges, 27 National Parks, 20 National Forests, over 30 million square miles of other Federal and State land areas, over 100 distinct Native American tribal areas, and 24 Customs ports of entry.
Challenges in the Region range from protecting endangered Mexican wolves to foiling interstate trafficking of wildlife ranging from freshwater fish to big game species. Enforcement work includes promoting compliance under Federal wildlife laws by oil and gas producers and other industries whose activities affect protected birds; inspecting wildlife imports and exports at two designated ports (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston) and four border crossings (Nogales, Arizona, and Brownsville, El Paso, and Laredo in Texas); and partnering with Service biologists to address issues affecting protected species and their habitat.
The Service has a long history in rhino conservation; investigating and prosecuting traffickers in rhino horn, working with partners on-the-ground, and driving conservation action through international treaties. Credit: Karl Stromayer, USFWS.
Safari Company Owners Charged in Rhino Hunt Scam
October 23, 2014 The owners of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris today were charged with selling illegal rhino hunts to unsuspecting American hunters. The defendants allegedly failed to get required permits and later sold rhino horns on the black market. Demand for rhino horn is soaring: In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. In 2013, poachers killed more than 1,000. The investigation is part of Operation Crash, an ongoing nationwide effort to halt unlawful trafficking of rhino horns. Since the initial arrest of eight in February 2012, there have been more than two dozen arrests and a dozen convictions. The Service’s Southwest Region law enforcement office served a critical role in supporting the Nation-wide Operation Crash investigation.
An immature red-tailed hawk is seen stooping from the skies to catch prey. “This investigation was aptly named. In some ways, it is a tribute to the Wilderness Act signed into law fifty years ago. It would be unfathomable to explore a wilderness area and not hear a bird’s song, or see an eagle or hawk soaring in the sky,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: Craig Koppie, USFWS
Operation Silent Wilderness
October 2014 This week in Phoenix, Arizona, Leo Begay, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation from Tuba City, Arizona, became the last defendant to be sentenced following a nationwide investigation – Operation Silent Wilderness – by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife into the illegal killing and commercialization of protected eagles and other migratory birds.
Distinguished by a white head and white tail feathers, bald eagles are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Both laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs. Photo credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS .
Edgewood Man Sentenced For Violating Federal Wildlife Laws
September 2014 A New Mexico resident was sentenced today for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by selling or offering to sell Bald Eagle feathers. A member of the Lakota/Sioux Tribe of the Hunkpapa Band of Lakota, Dale N. Smith was charged as the result of an undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that began on March 7, 2014, and concluded with Smith’s arrest on April 10, 2014. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. Spiers. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement with assistance from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the U. S. Marshals Service, and Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.
Often referred to as the "Mexican eagle," Crested Caracaras are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Crested Caracara ranges from northern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, in the United States it occurs along the southern border, primarily in Texas and Arizona. Credit: USFWS.
Investigation Leads to Seizure of Illegal Taxidermy and More
July 2014 Oklahoma - An investigation stemming from the attempted sale of stolen ATVs, led to the seizure of a Caracara Mexican Eagle, Scimitar Oryx, Addax and several duck mounts from the Triple S Wildlife Ranch and Resort in Calvin, Oklahoma. A number of stolen ATVs and two stolen tractors used in the daily operations of the ranch were also seized. Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry's Investigative Services Division with assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Examiners and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, executed the warrant for State and Federal violations on July 9, 2014.
Bald Eagles are amongst more than 1000 wild birds protected under the federal wildlife laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Lacey Act. Photo credit: USFWS.
New Mexico Resident Pleads Guilty to Violating Federal Wildlife Laws Prohibiting Sale of Eagle Feathers
June 2014 A 60-year-old resident of Edgewood, New Mexico, pleaded guilty this morning to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by selling or offering to sell Bald Eagle feathers. The criminal complaint cited violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Edgewood resident faces a maximum statutory penalty of two years in prison to be followed by a term of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. The sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later time. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. Spiers and was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement with assistance from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the U. S. Marshals Service, and Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.
Pictured are items seized by the USFWS LE agents during the Operation Crash investigation. Items shown include rhino horns and parts. Photo credit: USFWS.
Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy
June 2014 A resident of Frisco, Texas, and an appraiser of Asian art, pleaded guilty on June 24, 2014 in federal court to participating in an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth nearly $1 million were smuggled from the United States to China. This case was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species. “This guilty plea by another participant in one of the largest criminal trafficking rings we’ve ever investigated – as well as the unprecedented jail time given to the rings’ leader last month – serves notice to other poachers and smugglers that we are clamping down hard on those who break international wildlife laws,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe.
The American alligator is one of two living species of alligator. It has been hunted since the 19th century for its valuable leather and, until the 1960s, the trade was largely unregulated. Photo credit: D. Scott Lipsey/USFWS.
Texas Man Found Guilty of Killing an American Alligator
Beaumont, Texas - An Angelina County Man found guilty in October 2013 of killing a Neches River alligator was sentenced on June 24, 2014, to pay $5,000 in restitution and serve one year probation, with the loss of all hunting rights during that period. During the investigation law enforcement agents discovered that a 13-foot American alligator, weighing approximately 800 pounds, was illegally shot and killed with a .22 caliber rifle. The Endangered Species Act prohibits the taking of an American alligator contrary to any federal or state regulations. This case was led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, in Houston, Texas in cooperation with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Criminal Investigations Division. It was prosecuted in the Eastern District of Texas.
Graphic displaying Bald Eagle feathers. Credit: USFWS National Forensics Laboratory.
Internet Posting Leads To Successful Recovery of Protected Eagle Feathers
April 2014 A resident of Edgewood, New Mexico has been charged with violating federal wildlife laws that prohibit the selling of, and offering to sell, eagle feathers in a criminal complaint filed in federal court. The complaint alleges violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in March 2014, in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. The investigation was initiated on March 7, 2014, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received information regarding an Internet website posting of Indian arts and crafts, which appeared to include federally protected feathers. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. Spiers and was investigated by the Office of Law Enforcement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with assistance from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the U. S. Marshals Service, and the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.
The double-crested cormorant was one of the seven species of migratory birds recovered during the investigation by the Service. Credit: USFWS, Lee Karney.
Refinery Ordered to pay more than $2 Million for Environmental and Migratory Bird Treaty Act Violations in Texas
February 2014 Corpus Christi, Texas – CITGO Petroleum Corporation and CITGO Refining and Chemicals Company L.P (CITGO) were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) on Wednesday, February 5, 2014. The sentencing was for failure to equip two massive tanks with required emission controls and exposing numerous residents in the Oak Park and Hillcrest communities in Corpus Christi as well as several migratory birds to chemical emissions. CITGO was ordered to pay $2 million in fines for the Clean Air violations. Additionally, CITGO was also charged with three misdemeanor MBTA counts and ordered to pay another $45,000 in fines. The Department of Justice, the United States Attorney's Office Victim Witness Section, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Environmental Crimes Unit (TCEQ), and the Texas Environmental Crimes Investigative Task Force (Task Force) worked together on this case. Members of the Task Force conducting the investigation consisted of officers from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, TCEQ, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Task Force conducted site visits and interviewed hundreds of potential witnesses and victims of CITGO's actions in addition to recovering seven different species of migratory birds.
FWS Law Enforcement Investigation Leads to Guilty Plea of Migratory Bird Act
January 2014 Oklahoma - Wildcat Concrete Services, Inc., a Kansas corporation, paid $372,750 to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund as part of a non-prosecution agreement with the United States arising from the destruction of cliff swallow nests during a bridge repair project. The company was under contract with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to perform joint expansion repair work on the Otter Creek Bridge on highway US-270 in Harper County, Oklahoma. This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney's Office in Oklahoma.
"Gar Guy” Sentenced for Transporting Alligator Killed in Violation of State and Federal Law
January 2014 Beaumont, Texas – A 49-year-old hunting and fishing guide in Texas has been sentenced for transporting an alligator that he knew had been shot in violation of state and federal wildlife laws. Steve Barclay also known as “Gar Guy,” pleaded guilty on Aug. 13, 2013, to the felony offense of transporting wildlife taken in violation of federal law and was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Alligators are listed as a threatened species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The Lacy Act prohibits the transport, receipt, or acquisition of any wildlife taken, possessed, or transported in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, Houston, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Criminal Investigations Division.
Green winged teal. Photo credit: Woody Woodrow, USFWS.
USFWS Special Agent Badge. Photo credit: USFWS.
Compliance Plan Related to 2012 Migratory Bird Kill in Texas Now in Place
November 2013 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) learned of a large migratory bird kill at the Johnson Tank Farm Pond, owned and operated by Phillips 66 and WRB Refining (Borger), in Hutchison County, Texas, in August 2012. Approximately 260 waterfowl, mostly teal, were recovered from the three million barrel brine water pond spanning 22 acres. Borger self-reported the kill and immediately began implementing hazing efforts in an attempt to keep migratory birds off of the pond. Additionally, Borger established an emergency treatment center to triage injured birds at the Borger facility. On November 22, 2013, the Department of the Interior with the Service, along with the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Phillips 66 Company and the WRB Refining LP, entered into an Agreement and Compliance Plan regarding operations at this facility.
A Tip to "Operation Game Thief” Hotline Led to Multi-State Investigation
November 2013 An Oklahoma City resident, Kyle McCormack, was sentenced to serve a one-year probation and pay $500 fine after being convicted of illegal transportation of wildlife in interstate commerce, a violation of the Lacey Act, announced Sanford C. Coats, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. McCormack also agreed to pay $2,500 into the Lacey Act Reward Account. This case is the result of an investigation led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and other State agencies.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service aggressively pursues unlawful activities involving our nation's fish and wildlife,” said Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez. Adding, “We work cooperatively with state law enforcement agencies as these partnerships have increased our success rate in investigations crossing state lines."
Eco-Tourism Guide Caught Smuggling Seven Snakes on Planeto U.S.
November 2013 An eco-tourism guide was sentenced three years of probation and ordered to pay a $2,300 fine for smuggling seven live snakes concealed in his jacket on a plane flying out of Peru and into East Texas. Peruvian law prohibits the exportation of wild live animals coming from the forest or jungle region unless the exporter has a properly issued ministerial order. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport Department of Public Safety.
The paddlefish represents one of the oldest and most obscure of North America’s freshwater fish species. It is historically found throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River systems, and portions of the Great Lakes. Photo credit: USFWS.
Commercial Fisherman Sentenced for Trafficking Paddlefish “Caviar”
In the case of the United States v. Robbie D. Tubbs et al., a commercial fisherman was found guilty of knowingly violating the Lacey Act and Oklahoma law by purchasing Paddlefish eggs with the intent of selling the eggs as caviar. The fisherman was
sentenced to six months incarceration on October 17, 2013. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement, with assistance from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
According to the investigation, Sipes transported and possessed 14 live, illegally imported white- tailed deer. Photo credit: USFWS.
Shreveport Man Sentenced for Illegally Transporting Deer in East Texas
September 2013 TYLER, Texas – Based on evidence collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement, Stephen Anderson Sipes Jr., a 57-year-old Shreveport, Louisiana man, has been sentenced to pay over $14,000 in restitution and serve 48 hours of community service as conditions of a two
year probated sentence for federal wildlife violations in the Eastern District of Texas. Sipes pleaded guilty on June 10, 2013, to a one-count criminal information charging him with negligent of transportation of wildlife.
According to the investigation, Wang attempted to ship two elephant ivory carvings. Examples of carved ivory objects include small statuary, netsukes, jewelry,
and flatware handles. Photo credit: FWS Forensics Laboratory.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Investigation Leads to Sentencing in Texas Wildlife Smuggling Case
September 2013 A 44-year-old Chinese national living in Plano, Texas has been sentenced for customs violations in the Eastern District of Texas. Shichen Wang pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of negligent attempted transportation of wildlife sold in violation of law and was given an 11 month probated sentence and fined $3,000.
"One of the primary objectives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to combat the international smuggling of wildlife from the U. S.,” said Southwest Region’s Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez. “This seizure was a great example of a multi-agency interdiction effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement and the U. S. Customs and Border Protection.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist holding an adult alligator gar. Credit: USFWS.
“Gar Guy” Found Guilty of Transporting Illegally-Obtained Alligator
Beaumont, Texas – A 49-year-old Kennard, Texas, hunting and fishing guide pleaded guilty to transporting an alligator that he knew had been shot in violation of state and federal wildlife laws. Alligators are listed as a threatened species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the transport, receipt, or acquisition of any wildlife taken, possessed, or transported in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States. The guide faces up to 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000.00 fine. This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, Houston, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Criminal Investigations Division.
This jaguar skin was sold to undercover Service agents in violation of the Endangered Species Act. .Photo Credit: USFWS
Operation Wild Web Results in 154 "Buy/Busts"
Investigators in the United States and Southeast Asia broke up scores of internet-brokered wildlife transactions last summer during Operation Wild Web—a coordinated, Service-led crackdown on web-based wildlife trafficking. In the U.S., the Service's Southwest Region's law enforcement agents conducted the undercover operation in cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. During Operation Wild Web, a snow leopard pelt, Texas tortoises (a threatened species), invasive freshwater stingrays, and numerous illegal and non-native invasive snakes were seized in the Southwest. William Woody, USFWS Assistant Director for Law Enforcement, says, “State partners were essential to the success of this operation, and that cooperation remains critical to disrupting wildlife trafficking on the Web and elsewhere.” Special Agent in Charge for the Southwest Region, Nick Chavez, adds , "We work with our state law enforcement conservation agencies to apprehend those individuals illegally trafficking our Nation's wildlife for monetary purposes. With our combined efforts, we protect our threatened/endangered listed species, migratory birds, and other wildlife from being exploited being that via the internet, smuggling through our airports, or our land borders."
Texas Snake Expert Guilty of Smuggling Peruvian Reptiles
June 2013 A63-year-old Tyler, Texas eco-tourism guide has pleaded guilty to smuggling live snakes into the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney John M. Bales today. William Lamar pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with importing wildlife taken in violation of foreign law today before U.S. Magistrate Judge John D. Love. Lamar faces up to five years in federal prison at sentencing. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport Department of Public Safety.
This illustration shows the major types of wing feathers in a fanned wing. Graphic credit USFWS Forensics Laboratory.
Eagle, Hawk Feather Trafficker Sent to Prison
June 2013 A California resident investigated by the Service for selling the parts of golden eagles, hawks and other migratory birds via his MySpace page has been sentenced to spend two years in Federal prison. The defendant previously pleaded guilty to felony violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act; more than 18 different bird species were represented in the more than 150 feathers and items seized during the investigation. Photo caption: Federal law strictly prohibits the sale of eagles, other migratory birds, and their parts.
There are 38 subspecies of white-tailed deer. This is an image of a white-tailed doe with tail flagged for danger, moving through shallow water. Photo credit: USFWS
Louisiana Man Guilty of Negligent Transportationof Wildlife in East Texas
TYLER, Texas – A 57-year-old Shreveport, Louisiana man has pleaded guilty to federal wildlife violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney John M. Bales today. Stephen Anderson Sipes Jr. pleaded guilty on June 10, 2013, to a one-count criminal information charging him with negligent transportation of wildlife before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Love. Sipes was said to have been in possession of 14 illegally imported live whitetail deer valued at over $350.00 each. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Special Operations Unit of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Noble.
Missouri City Man Pays Price for Illegally Possessing Bald Eagle
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Sam Mathew, 53, of Missouri City, was ordered to pay the maximum fine allowed by law for illegally possessing a bald eagle based on evidence collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The case was prosecuted by United States Attorney.