The U.S. is a leader in the fight against wildlife crime. We use our wildlife laws to keep this country from becoming a significant transit point and destination for such trafficked wildlife items as elephant ivory, rhino horn, tiger bone, sea turtle shell, endangered butterflies, shahtoosh wool, and certain live reptiles, amphibians and corals.
But the federal budget sequestration is limiting our law-enforcement capability at the very time we need it most. Our Office of Law Enforcement already has 63 vacant positions for special agents—the men and women on the front lines of preventing wildlife crime. With sequestration, FWS had to cancel plans to hire a class of 24 officers to begin filling these jobs. As a result, we will be able to carry out fewer investigations of wildlife trafficking, and we may have to postpone plans to station agents overseas in countries that are either suppliers of or markets for elephant ivory, rhino horn and other contraband.
We currently have 216 special agents—about the same level as in 1978, although the job is so much harder. The number of protected species has increased more than 60 percent, and wildlife trafficking today involves well-organized criminal syndicates taking advantage of the latest technologies to operate on a global basis. We also have vacancies in our wildlife inspector ranks, which we will not be able to fill. These are the folks on the ground at ports of entry, checking imports and exports and intercepting illegal trafficking.
We are focusing the resources we have, to the best of our ability, on the actions that will enable us to achieve our conservation mission. But we could do so much more to give wildlife a chance against poachers. We must ask ourselves where our priorities lie. Is the sequestration really worth a world where the only reminders of our most spectacular and treasured wildlife are a few carved tchotchkes?