Office of Law Enforcement
Protecting Wildlife and Plant Resources
Learn More Law Enforcement Historical Background

About Law Enforcement


Annual Reports

Strategic Plan

News Releases

Federal wildlife law enforcement celebrated its centennial in 2000 with the 100th anniversary of the Lacey Act - the Nation's first federal wildlife protection law.  That Act's prohibitions on the importation of injurious wildlife and interstate commerce in illegally taken game species were followed by a series of measures aimed specifically at protecting migratory birds. With these laws and treaties came the age of the "duck cop."  Policing waterfowl hunters and protecting waterfowl populations from commercial exploitation would long be a major focus for federal wildlife law enforcement.

During the middle decades of the century, however, increasing human pressures on populations and habitats of many different animals - from whooping cranes to American alligators - began to take their toll.  Special protections for bald eagles (1940) and then golden eagles (1962) were put in  place.  The 1960s saw the first steps to protect a broader range of endangered species - steps that would culminate in the comprehensive 1973 Endangered Species Act and negotiation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Laws to protect specific types of wildlife, from marine mammals and African elephants to wild birds and tigers, targeted special conservation concerns.

With these developments came new roles and responsibilities for Service law enforcement. From 1918 until the early 1970s, the word "game" consistently appeared in the job titles used for federal wildlife law enforcement officers.  In 1973, however, the Service began calling its investigators "special agents," a name better suited to the expanding challenges of the job. In 1975, the Office of Law Enforcement hired a biological technician to inspect wildlife shipments in New York - the beginning of a trade inspection force that would expand the following year to cover eight ports of entry. The opening of the world's first wildlife forensics laboratory in 1988 made science and technology an integral part of the Service's enforcement team.

The Office of Law Enforcement today focuses on combating international wildlife trafficking, unlawful commercial exploitation of native species, environmental contamination, and habitat destruction. Partnerships with states, tribes, and foreign countries make Service special agents, wildlife inspectors, and forensic scientists part of a national and global network committed to protecting wildlife resources.

The chronology below traces the development of federal wildlife law enforcement and records major historical milestones for the protection of wildlife in the United States and around the world.

Chronology of Key Events

The following are significant developments in the history of Federal wildlife law enforcement: The history is separated into three time frames in order to make the pages faster to load and easier to read.


Additional Information

A listing for each of the following subjects is available:

There is also additional information regarding Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement located on the National Conservation Training Center website.

Last updated: February 14, 2013