Office of Law Enforcement
Protecting Wildlife and Plant Resources
Law Enforcement History: 1951 - 1975


Fish and Wildlife Service Director Albert Day announced an expanded program of enforcement and management for the protection of migratory waterfowl, transferring the personnel and funds of the Section of Waterfowl Management Investigations to the Branch of Game Management.


The Fish and Wildlife Service was reorganized into the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, consisting of a Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife and a Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Wildlife law enforcement responsibilities were placed in the Branch of Management and Enforcement of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.


Following an investigation that revealed large-scale market-hunting of waterfowl, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was amended to include felony provisions for commercial activities - a $2,000 fine or two years imprisonment, or both.


The Bald Eagle Protection Act became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and extended protection to golden eagles.


The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 became effective, prohibiting the importation into the United States of species "threatened with extinction worldwide," except as specifically allowed for zoological and scientific purposes, and propagation in captivity. The Act amended the Black Bass Act to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in fish taken in violation of foreign law, a provision that had been added to the Lacey Act for wildlife. It also amended the Lacey Act so that its prohibition on interstate and foreign commerce applied not only to wild birds and mammals, but to reptiles, mollusks, amphibians, and crustaceans. This amendment was made in an effort aimed primarily at protecting the American alligator. The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries was transferred to the Department of Commerce and became the National Marine Fisheries Service.


The Airborne Hunting Act was signed into law, prohibiting the use of aircraft to hunt or harass wildlife.


The United States signed the Migratory Bird Treaty with Japan. The Migratory Bird Treaty with Mexico was amended to protect additional species, including birds of prey. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 became law, establishing a moratorium on the taking and importing of marine mammals, such as polar bears, sea otters, dugongs, walrus, manatees, whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The Eagle Protection Act was amended to increase penalties from $500 or six months imprisonment to $5,000 or one year, and to add the provision that a second conviction was punishable by a $10,000 fine or two years imprisonment, or both. In addition, the amendment allowed for informants to be rewarded with half of the fine, not to exceed $2,500. In September 1972, the Division of Management and Enforcement was reorganized. Waterfowl management responsibilities were transferred to the Office of Migratory Bird Management and the Division of Management and Enforcement became the Division of Law Enforcement.


The Endangered Species Act of 1973 became law, recognizing that "endangered species of wildlife and plants are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people. The Act expanded the scope of prohibited activities to include not only importation, but also exportation, take, possession, and other activities involving illegally taken species, and interstate or foreign commercial activities. It implemented protection for a new "threatened" category - species likely to become in danger of extinction. The field organization of the Division of Law Enforcement was restructured into 13 law enforcement districts, and selection for the first Special Agents in Charge and Assistant Special Agents in Charge under this organization was announced on February 21, 1974.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) went into effect, regulating the importation, exportation, and re-exportation of species listed on its three appendices.

The first biological technician was hired in New York City to inspect wildlife shipments.

Historical Developement of Wildlife Law Enforcement in the United States Continued:

1900 - 1950
1976 - Present

Back to Historical Background page.

Last updated: February 14, 2013