Permits are tools that enable us to authorize and monitor activities consistent with the conservation, protection, and enhancement of wild animals and plants. Permits balance the use and conservation of protected wildlife species and help ensure no species go extinct as a result of the legal wildlife trade. They also gather data used to monitor trade and conservation needs of wild plants and animals so future generations can enjoy them.

What We Do

Our Projects and Initiatives

We issue approximately 20,000 permits annually. The majority of this work is performed by fewer than 30 staff comprised of permit biologists, legal instrument examiners, and administrative professionals. Our responsibilities also include policy implementation including on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Our work supports the Service’s overall permitting program.

Apply for a Permit

What is a Permit? 
A Permit is an exception, in the form of a document, that gives prior authorization for a specific activity that would otherwise be considered unlawful under U.S. law or international treaty. When an entity applies for a permit, and the applicable criteria are met, we may grant an exception in the form of a permit, certificate, letter of authorization, or registration. We tend to refer to all of these documents as “permits.” The permits we issue support U.S. communities, businesses, educational institutions, state agencies, Tribes, and the U.S. public.

Our Permit Application Process 

For each permit application we receive, we review relevant domestic and foreign laws to ensure legality and consider the risks and benefits of the proposed activities for the wildlife species. Where applicable, we also ensure the activity will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. In making our determinations, we use the best available information and expertise to ensure that the trade in wildlife and wildlife products is legal, traceable, and when applicable, biologically sustainable. Our science-based review ensures the requested activity is allowable under our laws and regulations.

Reducing Public Burden

To alleviate some burdens to our customers, we digitized our five most high-volume permit applications, which are all for the export of wildlife under CITES. Digitizing the top five applications reduced the vast amount of work needed to submit paper applications, helped reduce the public burden, and built trust with our permit applicants. We also created “Master Files” for these permits that can streamline certain activities. Master Files may be valid for between one to three years and allow for multiple exports or re-exports of pre-authorized specimens to various destinations over an authorized period of time. We will continue to fully digitize additional permit applications.

We are also working with stakeholder groups to streamline and assist with their permitting needs. For example, we created “passports” for private citizens who need assistance traveling internationally with their pets and for professional musicians traveling overseas with instruments made with parts from protected species.

We recognize that the application process, from applying to receiving a decision, can be time consuming. In an effort to continue to improve our services, we are conducting a thorough permit application processing review, which will highlight areas for us to improve efficiency.

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