The Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) is the law enforcement branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responsible for enforcing the U.S. laws, regulations, and treaties that protect wildlife and plant resources and operates at the international, national, regional, and local levels. Examples of our work at the international and national level include providing program oversight, service support, training, forensic analyses, intelligence, policy, and guidance. At the regional and local levels our law enforcement professionals execute on-the-ground law investigations, wildlife inspections, and provide support to the frontline activities. Our work is critical to the successful interdiction and prosecution of wildlife crimes and general wildlife conservation.
Our Strategic Plan Goals:
- Combat Global Wildlife Trafficking
- Protect the Nation’s Fish, Wildlife, and Plants from Unlawful Exploitation, Industrial Hazards, and Habitat Loss
- Facilitate and Expedite the Legal Trade
- Enhance Management Accountability
Along with our other Law Enforcement professionals, the Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory supports the efforts of Wildlife Law Enforcement by conducting crime scene investigations, examining submitted items of evidence, and providing expert witness testimony in court. For more information visit their webpage here.
Our mission is to protect wildlife and plant resources through the effective enforcement of federal laws. By working with federal, state, tribal and foreign enforcement agencies, and other conservation partners, we combat wildlife trafficking, help recover endangered species, conserve migratory birds, preserve wildlife habitat, safeguard fisheries, prevent the introduction and spread of , and promote international wildlife conservation.
By the end of the 1800s, a number of hunters, bird watchers, and those who loved the outdoors were becoming concerned that much of our nation’s wildlife was close to near extinction. In response, the American public and politicians began initiatives to conserve wildlife.
On May 25, 1900, President William McKinley signed the Lacey Act into law, giving the United States its first far-reaching federal wildlife protection. It provided an immediate impact on the rampant commercial exploitation of wildlife by giving game wardens a powerful enforcement tool and ever since, our wildlife officers have been at the forefront of the American conservation movement protecting our nation’s wildlife.
In its original version, the Lacey Act focused on helping states protect their native game animals and 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. Throughout the years, lawmakers expanded the statute's prohibitions to cover international trade; uphold federal and foreign wildlife laws; ban the importation of animals shipped under inhumane conditions; increase the penalties for wildlife trafficking; and include commercial guiding violations and a wider variety of plants, plant products, and products made from illegally logged timber. 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.
During the middle decades of the 20th century, increasing human pressures on populations and habitats of many different animals began to take its toll, so special protections for wildlife 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). Additional 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. However in 1973, conservation law enforcement officers received the title of "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 and our Wildlife Inspector Program. Additionally, the OLE has created a Branch of Training and Inspection, International Operations Unit, Special Investigations Unit, Wildlife Intelligence Unit, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, National Wildlife Repository and National Eagle Repository, Digital Evidence Recovery and Technical Support Unit, Professional Responsibility Unit, Investigations Unit, Branch of Planning and Analysis, and its Law Enforcement Management Information System. The OLE staff are committed to investigating wildlife crime and referring cases to prosecution; stopping the illegal wildlife trade; ensuring a sustainable legal trade; reducing demand for illegal products; and providing technical assistance and expertise to other nations in the fight against global wildlife trafficking.