Wide Variation in Enforcing National Wildlife Laws:
The Bush Years

The extent to which federal criminal charges are brought against individuals and businesses for violations of the nation's wildlife laws varies markedly from one part of the country to another, according to a unique new data base developed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The wildlife charges cover such matters as the taking, killing or possessing of migratory birds, the illegal taking of fish and wildlife and the protection of endangered species including golden eagles.

For other bulletins in this series examining trends across presidential administrations and enforcement under other environmental areas see TRAC-Reports.

Overall Wildlife Numbers

The data show that from the beginning of FY 2001 through the first quarter of FY 2004 federal prosecutors considered filing one or more criminal charges under the wildlife laws against 3,558 parties. These numbers regarding how federal prosecutors handle violators of the nation's wildlife laws around the country was based on very detailed information obtained from the Justice Department by TRAC. The data in this case focus on the actions of the U.S. Attorneys operating in each of the 90 federal districts in the United States during the Bush Administration. See "About the Data" for additional details about how these figures were derived.

Most Wildlife Referrals Prosecuted

According to the new data base, most -- over four out of five or 83% -- of the recommendations for prosecution from the investigative agencies on wildlife matters resulted in the bringing of charges. See graph. This was about the same as in the past Clinton administration where the rate was just over 82%. The high proportion of recommended matters that were prosecuted in this component of environmental enforcement sharply contrasts with the outcomes for those charged for violating the pollution laws.

Federal Prosecutions under Wildlife Laws
FY 2001 - FY 2004 (1st Quarter)

  Prosecutions Filed
Number Percent
All 2,954 100.0
Felony 580 19.6
Misdemeanor 1,243 42.1
Petty 1,128 38.2
Not Specified 3 0.1

Most of the defendants in this area were charged with misdemeanors or petty offenses. See table. Looked at the other way, only one out of five of the targeted were charged with felonies. In other words, partly because of the way the laws have been written, federal investigators and prosecutors treat most wildlife violations as a less serious kind of crime. Again, this is quite different from pollution matters where 86 percent of all prosecutions of pollution matters involve felonies.

Top Five Districts
in Bush Administration

Judicial District
Prosecutions Filed
Number Percent
All 2,954 100.0
La, W (Shreveport) 1,498 50.7
La, E (New Orleans) 288 9.7
Miss, S (Jackson) 104 3.5
Ill, N (Chicago) 59 2.0
La, M (Baton Rouge) 54 1.8
Subtotal Top 5 2,003 67.8
Active districts have at least 50 prosecutions each.
See complete district list.

Actions Concentrated in a Few Districts

Perhaps the most striking aspect of federal wildlife prosecutions is their concentration in a handful of federal judicial districts.

Two out of three prosecutions occurred in just five federal districts -- the three districts covering the state of Louisiana, plus Mississippi South (Jackson) and Illinois North (Chicago).

One district alone -- Louisiana West (Shreveport) accounted for half (51 percent) of all federal prosecutions under the nation's wildlife laws. See table.

While special ecological conditions explain part of unusual concentration in one small corner of the United States, the determined effort of investigators in the area may also be a factor.