What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which dates back to 1871, is the only federal agency that has the primary mission of conserving, protecting, and enhancing wildlife, fish, and plants for the good and benefit of the American people.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is often referred to simply as the Service, works to ensure a healthy environment for both people and wildlife through conservation, education, and enforcement efforts.

The major responsibilities of the Service focus on endangered species, select marine mammals, migratory birds, and freshwater and anadromous (lives in the sea and breeds in freshwater) fish.

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The Mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One of the major areas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the Office of Law Enforcement, which is responsible for protecting wildlife resources through the enforcement of federal laws related to the conservation and recovery of endangered species, migratory birds, wildlife habitats, and global wildlife conservation. The Service’s Office of Law Enforcement is also called upon to combat invasive species, safeguard fisheries, and promote wildlife conservation.

The Office of Law Enforcement is focused on preventing and obstructing a number of destructive threats to our nation’s wildlife resources, including:

  • Unlawful commercial exploitation
  • Habitat destruction
  • Illegal trade
  • Environmental hazards

The Service’s Office of Law Enforcement accomplishes its mission through:

  • The investigation of wildlife crimes
  • The regulation of wildlife trade
  • The education of Americans on wildlife protection laws
  • The coordination of efforts with international, federal, state and tribal partners


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Scope of Authority and Jurisdiction

The Service now manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, which consists of 93 million acres and more than 530 individual refuges, wetlands, and special management areas. The Service also oversees the operation of 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices, and 78 ecological services field stations.

The efforts of the Service include:

  • Enforcing federal wildlife protection laws
  • Managing migratory birds
  • Restoring national fisheries
  • Providing assistance to the conservation efforts of foreign governments
  • Conserving wetlands

In FY2011 alone, the Service had a large number of accomplishments:

  • Two Virginia commercial fishermen were sentenced for trafficking more than 65,000 pounds of striped bass. It was discovered that the men took the fish from the Potomac River and sold them to fish dealers throughout Washington D.C. The D.C. fish wholesaler who purchased the illegal fish was also sentenced and fined more than $875,000.
  • Two individuals were found guilty of conspiracy and wildlife violations involving eagle trafficking.
  • A reptile dealer in New Jersey was found guilty and sentenced for purchasing protected wood turtles from an undercover officer.
  • A Louisiana business was found guilty of illegally transporting tilapia out of Florida and introducing them as invasive species to the marshes of southeast Louisiana.
  • Owners of an Illinois fish hatchery were found guilty of transferring potentially diseased fish stocks into Indiana.
  • A Wyoming oil refinery was found guilty of committing a number of federal and state environmental violations. It was fined $850,000 and was required to upgrade its equipment and facilities at a cost of $4.5 million.
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Jobs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement

The Office of Law Enforcement has two, primary law enforcement positions:

  • Special Agents
  • Wildlife Inspectors

Special Agents – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s special agents serve as plainclothes criminal investigators who are responsible for enforcing federal wildlife laws. Their work involves targeting criminal activity, such as habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking, and protecting threatened or endangered species, marine mammals, migratory birds, and imperiled plants and animals.

Special agents of the Service may investigate cases involving smuggling, money laundering, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud, just to name a few. Investigative work for the Service may take special agents throughout the United States, from rural duty stations to the heart of America’s largest cities.

The jurisdiction of special agents also varies considerably, with some agents responsible for enforcing wildlife laws throughout the country and other agents based solely in offices in such locations as New York City and Los Angeles.

Wildlife Inspectors – Wildlife inspectors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are responsible for import-export control as to defend against the illegal trade of wildlife. As such, the major duty of Service wildlife inspectors is to prevent and deter the criminal activity of wildlife trafficking through inspections of wildlife shipments and ensure that all wildlife shipments comply with both U.S. and international wildlife protection laws.

Wildlife inspectors are therefore stationed at all of the nation’s major ports, border crossings, and international airports, where they are responsible for intercepting smuggled wildlife and wildlife products, stopping illegal shipments, and helping the United States fulfill its wildlife conservation efforts.

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The jurisdiction of wildlife inspectors varies. Some inspectors work along the Mexican and Canadian borders and specific ports that exclusively handle certain types of wildlife traffic, although the majority of inspectors work out of one of country’s 18 designated ports (or wildlife inspection offices at these ports):

  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Houston, Texas
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Miami, Florida
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • New York, New York
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California
  • Seattle, Washington

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