The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has authority under several laws it enforces, such as the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, to seize and forfeit protected fish, wildlife, and plants that are the subject of violations of those laws. A list of those laws is available at 50 CFR 12.2(a). For example, the Service may seize a shipment of exotic reptile leather goods lacking required documents when the goods are imported at a U.S. port. After it seizes the exotic reptile leather goods, the Service follows applicable law as it begins the forfeiture process for the goods. Forfeiture means an item becomes the property of the United States.
When the Service seizes fish, wildlife, or plants, it must follow the appropriate administrative forfeiture process. Our seizure and forfeiture regulations, which may be found in 50 CFR part 12, explain that process. Generally, it is an administrative (agency-only) process that typically does not involve a court. However, you may choose to file a claim in response to a Notice of Seizure and Proposed Forfeiture, which will move your forfeiture matter to Federal court. If the Department of Justice pursues a civil or criminal forfeiture, a different process occurs, which is not covered here, nor do the notices linked from this website apply.
As part of the administrative forfeiture process, the Service must provide a public notice of any seizures or proposed forfeitures. The purpose of a notice is to tell an owner of seized fish, wildlife, or plants, or a person or entity who has an interest in that seized property, that the property has been seized and is proposed to be forfeited. It also informs the owner/interested party that they may file a petition for remission or file a claim before a certain date, which are options to make a case for return of the property. Owners/interested parties also have the option to abandon their property to the Service.
Once the date stated in the notice has passed, the Service will declare the property forfeited to the United States, assuming no owner/interested party filed a petition for remission or a claim. The Service may dispose of the property no earlier than 30 days following the declaration of forfeiture in most cases. Disposal may include any of the methods listed in 50 CFR part 12, such as donation, sale, destruction, etc. The Service forfeits and disposes of abandoned property in the same manner.
If an owner/interested party files a petition for remission before the date stated in the notice, the Service will retain the property until after the Solicitor’s Office reaches a decision on the petition and any potential supplemental petition. Likewise, the Service will retain the property until the judicial process is complete regarding a claim. Owners/interested parties may also file petitions for remission for abandoned property. If a petition or a claim is denied, the Service will forfeit and dispose of the property as described above.
Recent public notices can be found online here and will be posted for at least 30 consecutive days.