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Congressman Brendan Boyle

Representing the 13th District of Pennsylvania

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Congressman Boyle Calls For End to Wildlife Permitting Scheme

June 27, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC– Congressman Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA) today called for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Daniel Ashe to end its “Pay-to-Play” Endangered Species Act (ESA) permitting scheme. Through this controversial and dangerous practice, FWS advises people or organizations to pay as little as $500 to unvetted—and often foreign—entities in exchange for FWS permits to engage in activities that harm or kill animals in ways prohibited by the ESA.  This scheme has been developed and implemented by FWS staff without any oversight or authorization by Congress, and contrary to the conservation principles of the ESA. 


“This unauthorized loophole allows people to buy their way out of the species protections of the ESA and undermines our collective, global efforts to protect endangered and threatened animals from harm and abuse,” said Congressman Boyle. “It is especially irresponsible for FWS to steer donations to un-vetted foreign entities given the well-documented link between wildlife trafficking and terrorist activities.” Continued Boyle, “this is as much an issue of national security as it is of animal welfare.” 


The ESA states that no one may “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect” species deemed threatened or endangered, which includes at-risk animals like lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, and chimpanzees. Potential exceptions may be granted when such activity may have direct benefit for the individual animal or the species in the wild. 
 
However, in order to allow trophy hunters, amusement parks, unaccredited exotic animal exhibitors and others to circumvent these restrictions and use animals in ways that do not benefit the species, FWS has unilaterally decided to direct permit applicants that they can show an “indirect benefit” to the animals they want to harm by giving negligible “enhancement” donations to charities of questionable legitimacy—including foreign entities in places known for corruption—with an alleged conservation mission. 


Information obtained by Congressman Boyle from FWS via the Congressional Research Service confirms that ESA permits are rarely given for their intended purpose of direct benefits to at-risk species, and instead virtually every one of the more than 1,300 ESA permits given out in the last five years involves this pay-to-play scheme. Further, FWS admits it does not check the legitimacy of the organizations, which are often foreign, to which applicants purport to send money, nor does it confirm whether any money is actually spent on the conservation activities outlined in the ESA application. 


Records reviewed during an ongoing investigation by Congressman Boyle—who serves on the powerful House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform—show that pay-to-play has been used to obtain permits for the use of endangered elephants and tigers in abusive traveling exhibitions that have violated the Animal Welfare Act, to hunt and import the remains of endangered black rhinoceroses, and for invasive experiments on endangered monkeys. 


Congressman Boyle is also a cosponsor of the Global Anti-Poaching Act (HR 2494), a bipartisan bill to combat wildlife trafficking that passed the House last fall and is currently being considered in the Senate.