The Lacy Act provides authority to the Secretary of the Interior to designate injurious wildlife and ensure the humane treatment of wildlife shipped to the United States. [18 U.S.C. §42 and 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378.] Further, it prohibits the importation, exportation, transportation, sale, or purchase of fish and wildlife taken or possessed in violation of State, Federal, Indian tribal, and foreign laws. In 2008 the Lacy Act was amended as a part of the 2008 Farm Bill to strengthen and improve the enforcement of Federal wildlife laws and improve Federal assistance to the States and foreign governments in the enforcement of their wildlife laws. The act along with the amendments provide an important tool in the effort to gain control of smuggling and trade in illegally taken fish and wildlife.
The Lacey Act was originally passed in 1900 to outlaw interstate traffic in birds and other animals illegally killed in their state of origin. It was aimed at the so-called "pot hunter" who killed large amounts of wildlife for sale. Similarly, the Black Bass Act was passed in 1926 to outlaw the interstate transport of illegally taken black bass. Today, the Lacey Act has been amended several times and now combines the Lacey and Black Bass Acts into a single comprehensive statute to provide more effective enforcement of State, Federal, Indian tribal, and foreign conservation laws protecting fish, wildlife, and rare plants. It is a vital tool where the Federal government can aid other governments in enforcing their own conservation laws.
With the exception of the marking offenses, none of the offenses under the Act stand on their own. There must first be a violation of an underlying Federal, State, foreign, or Indian Tribal law, treaty, or regulation relating to fish, wildlife, or rare plants.
It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, possess, or purchase any fish, wildlife, or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any Federal, State, foreign, or Indian tribal law, treaty, or regulation. [16 U.S.C. § 3372.]
It is unlawful for any importation of live wild animals and birds to occur under inhumane and unhealthful conditions.
It is unlawful for any person to make or submit any false record, account, or identification of any fish, wildlife, or plant which has been, or is intended to be imported, exported, sold, purchased, or received from any foreign country; or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. These are commonly referred to as marking offenses.
Under the Act, Federal agents are authorized to seize any wildlife which they have reasonable grounds to believe was taken, possessed, transported, or imported in violation of any provisions of the underlying laws.
Both criminal and civil penalties can be assessed, depending upon the nature and type of the violation. A civil penalty can be as much as $10,000 if there is evidence that the violator should have known that the fish, wildlife, or plants were taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any underlying law. [16 U.S.C. §3373.]
Criminal penalties fall into two categories. For a felony offense, a maximum $250,000 fine per individual and $500,000 per organization, and/or up to 5 years imprisonment for each violation of the Act can be assessed. A misdemeanor offense carries a maximum $100,000 fine per individual and $200,000 per organization, and/or up to 1 year imprisonment.
Forfeiture: Vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other equipment used during the commission of the crime may be forfeited to the government in cases involving felony convictions. Any fish, wildlife, or plants involved in violations of the Act are also subject to be forfeited. [16 U.S.C. § 3374.]
- Rewards can be paid to any person who furnishes information leading to an arrest, criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property.
- The maximum civil and criminal penalties have been increased and now include a felony punishment scheme which targets commercial violators and international traffickers.
- When the Lacey Act was amended in 1988 it was determined that the sale and purchase of guiding and outfitting services and invalid licenses and permits constitutes a sale and/or purchase of wildlife.
- Violations involving fish, wildlife, and plants are all subject to the same penalties.
- Restrictions have been relaxed on the marking of packages and containers of fish or wildlife shipped in interstate or foreign commerce to accommodate current industry practices.
- There is a strict liability forfeiture provision for all fish, wildlife, plants, vessels, vehicles, aircraft, or other equipment used in a violation of the Act, except marking violations.
- There are provisions for importing certain plants and animals, but such an importation must be accompanied by a import declaration.
The Lacey Act is the primary tool that the United States has in the protection of wildlife. It combats trafficking of wildlife, fish and plants. While proper importation is possible with a U.S. Customs declaration, smuggling is strictly prohibited. There are severe penalties for violating the provisions of the Act.