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Quick Summary of the Lacey Act

Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Summary of the Lacey Act


The Lacey Act (“Act”) is a comprehensive federal law that protects against wildlife crimes, such as international and domestic wildlife trafficking. The Act is administered by the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture through their respective agencies, i.e. the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of other federal, state, or foreign laws. Thus, the Act makes it a separate offense to traffic in wildlife, fish, or plants that have been illegally acquired. The Act also prohibits the falsification of documents for most shipments of wildlife (criminal penalty) and the failure to mark shipments of wildlife (civil penalty). A guide who provides an illegal hunt can be convicted if he or she knew of the illegal import or export of the species or if he or she had been involved in the sale or purchase of a species with a market value greater than $350.

Under the Act, violators are subject to civil and criminal penalties. The criminal penalty depends on the offender’s conduct and the market value of the species at issue. For a felony, the maximum penalty is $20,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment. For a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is $10,000 and/or up to one-year imprisonment. The maximum civil penalty is $10,000 and includes negligent violations of the Act. Violators can also face forfeiture of their equipment.

The Act, which was enacted in 1900, is the oldest national wildlife protection law that is still powerful today. Whether by criminal or civil penalties, the Act protects wildlife, fish, and plants from illegal trade and trafficking.   


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