U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Department of the Interior
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
911 NE 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
Phone: 503/231-6121
Fax: 503/231-2122

May 30, 2000
Contact: Pat Fisher, 202-208-5634 or Sandra Cleva, 703-358-1949


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.

Congress amended the Lacey Act several times during its first century. In the 1930s and 1940s, lawmakers expanded the statute's prohibitions to cover international trade, uphold federal and foreign wildlife laws, and ban the importation of animals shipped under inhumane conditions.

Amendments in 1981 overhauled the Act, reworking many of its provisions and increasing the penalties for wildlife trafficking.

Today, the Lacey Act makes it unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, buy, or possess fish, wildlife, or plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any federal, state, foreign, or Native American tribal law, treaty, or regulation.

"The Lacey Act remains a cornerstone for wildlife conservation by giving us the ability to combat interstate and global wildlife trafficking," said Clark.

Last year, for example, Service special agents worked on more than 1,500 Lacey Act investigations. They exposed illegal guiding operations profiteering in both state and federally protected species, and pursued cases involving the illegal, large-scale commercial exploitation of black bears, Hawaiian corals, midwestern mussels, Lake Erie fish, and Maryland yellow perch.


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.

The Lacey Act is only one of a number of federal wildlife protection laws enforced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service. "Over the past century, the Nation's growing commitment to conservation produced both new legal safeguards for wildlife and an expanded role for federal wildlife law enforcement officers. Their work is essential to virtually every aspect of the Service's conservation mission, from protecting endangered species to preserving hunting and fishing opportunities," Clark said.

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."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93- million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System of more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.



The Lacey Act is a federal wildlife protection law that combats the illegal commercial exploitation of wildlife and rare plants.

This law allows the federal government to help states, tribes, and countries around the world safeguard their wildlife resources.


Passed by Congress in 1900, the Lacey Act was the first federal law to address wildlife protection nationwide.

In its original version, the Lacey Act supported efforts by the states to protect their game animals and birds. It prohibited the interstate shipment of wildlife killed in violation of state or territorial law.


The Lacey Act of 1900 also:

Required wildlife to be clearly marked when shipped in interstate commerce.

Banned the importation of mongooses, fruit bats, English sparrows, starlings and other species that could harm U.S. crop production and horticulture.

Authorized the federal government to take measures needed to preserve and restore game bird populations.

A 1935 amendment prohibited interstate commerce in wildlife captured or killed in violation of any federal or foreign law.

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

As a broad anti-trafficking statute, the Lacey Act remains a key enforcement tool for protecting wildlife in this country and supporting wildlife conservation worldwide.

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.