Enforcement of the federal laws designed to protect migratory birds, endangered species, marine mammals and other kinds of wild life has slumped during the Bush Administration, according to authoritative Justice Department data.
The decline was documented in an analysis of a special new data base comparing the number of individuals and corporations charged with violating such laws during the first term of President Clinton, the second Clinton term and the Bush years. The data were obtained and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
Here are the overall numbers
During President Clinton's first four years in the White House (FY1993- 1996) federal prosecutors filed felony charges against 840 defendants for violating one of the four dozen laws relating to protecting wildlife. In the second Clinton term, the number of these defendants went up 3% to 867. During the FY 2001-2004 period under President Bush, however, wildlife filings declined by about 20 percent. See graph. (Because the current fiscal year has not yet ended, the counts in the fourth year of the Bush Administration are projected for part of FY 2004. See About the Data.)
An even larger number of defendants were charged with wildlife misdemeanors. Again trends were down during Bush. There were 2,425 defendants prosecuted during the first Clinton administration and 2,519 defendants – up 4% – in the second Clinton term. During the FY 2001 - 2004 period under President Bush, filings fell by 40%. See graph.
Approximately 2,500 additional defendants were charged with petty offenses under the wildlife laws. Unfortunately, government data systems did not routinely record these less serious offenses until well into the Clinton administration's second term. Thus, the same type of time series is not possible here. However, for the period FY 1999 - 2004 we again see a sharp drop off in these less serious prosecutions during the last three years. See graph.
The wildlife laws are one of several groupings of environmental statutes that TRAC has examined. In the last two months, for example, TRAC put up one special bulletin examining overall trends with all kinds of environmental enforcement actions and a second one zeroing in on pollution trends.
While the government's overall wildlife enforcement effort is definitely down, the new data base documents that for last 12 years the government's enforcement trends have varied considerably depending on the particular statute under examination. Since petty offenses were not available for this entire time period, these figures focus upon wildlife felonies and misdemeanors.
In the wildlife area, for example, the most frequently cited law for the whole period was 16 USC 703, the taking, killing or possessing of migratory birds. Focusing on this statute alone, prosecutors charged 1,700 defendants during the first four Clinton years and 1,931 in the second four, a 14% increase. But during the Bush years the filings dropped by almost half, down 47%.
The second most frequently cited statute was 16 USC 3372-3374, illegally taking fish and wildlife. Here, the filings were roughly the same during from the first to second Clinton terms while slipping a full 40% during the years when Mr. Bush was in the White House.
For the whole twelve years individuals charged under these two laws alone made up about three out of four of the total wildlife prosecutions.
The government's citation of the law designed to protect endangered species, 16 USC 1538, has always been relatively rare, with only 431 individuals charged during the entire twelve-year period. In this case, however, the trend has been consistently down for both presidents. During the first Clinton term, 189 individuals were charged with this crime. In the second term, the number dropped to 138, down by a bit more than a quarter, 27%. During the Bush years, the downward trend continued at about the same pace, 25%
Two other statutes with trends which contrasted with the general pattern were 16 USC 668 protecting bald and golden eagles and 16 USC 704 regarding how and when migratory birds may be taken. For both of these, prosecutions were much higher during the Bush years over either of the Clinton terms. The number of defendants charged under these statutes, however, were modest. See table below.