One hundred years ago, on May 25, President William McKinley signed the Lacey Act, giving the 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 statutes 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 Nations 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 Services conservation mission, from protecting endangered species to preserving hunting and fishing opportunities," Clark said.

Combating the unlawful commercial exploitation of native species