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Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed criminal charges
against a National Wildlife Refuge Manager for rescuing a threatened species,
according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). The charges involve actions the now-former manager took to save 400 tadpoles
of the rare Chiricahua leopard frog from certain destruction.

Last week, DOJ cited Wayne Shifflett, the long-time manager of the Buenos Aires
National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, with moving the tadpoles in 2003 without
proper authorization. Not only was Shifflett the manager of the refuge where
the frogs were re-introduced, after the species had been eradicated, but he
also had an Endangered Species permit issued by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
(the Chiricahua leopard frog is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species
Act). DOJ contends that Shifflett did not, however, have permission of the state
agency, Arizona Game & Fish, to take the tadpoles from private lands onto
the refuge. The citation DOJ issued on February 14th imposes a $3,500 fine.

This is the only prosecution on record of a wildlife refuge manager for a conservation-related

“Refuge managers who act boldly to protect wildlife should not be prosecuted;
they should be commended,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who
noted that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona twice declined to prosecute
Shifflett and that charges were ultimately filed out of Justice Department Headquarters
in Washington, D.C. “While it is a mystery why Justice would use scarce
prosecutorial resources to pursue this case, it is a certainty that this action
reeks of slimy politics.”

Shifflett’s decision to move the tadpoles has saved the species from
complete elimination on the refuge. The frogs are now thriving in ponds, tanks
and a breeding facility for which taxpayers had already spent $100,000 to facilitate
the threatened leopard frogs’ reintroduction. Shifflett acted after Arizona
Game & Fish had refused to issue a permit to a university researcher to
move the frogs onto the refuge.

“I have been asked many times by peers and friends if I had to make that
decision again, would I have made the same decision and my answer is always
the same: Without a doubt, it was the right decision for me and the resource,”
said Shifflett, who retired this May after a 38-year career in the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service. “A former Director of the Service would always
remind us ‘Refuge Managers are all about saving dirt and protecting critters.’
Politics change but saving dirt and critters has always remained the only constant
which has directed my decisions.”

Rather than spend months in his retirement fighting the criminal charges, Wayne
Shifflett has decided to pay the fine. The criminal charges come more than a
year and a half after his actions to save the frogs. The delay reflects months
of back room pressure and meetings about whether Shifflett should be prosecuted
even after he retired.

“This case is the perfect illustration of how federal wildlife policy
is now being set by pencil pushers and political schemers rather than by experienced,
dedicated professionals,” Ruch added. “Regardless of the costs,
Wayne Shifflett’s decisiveness will pay dividends to the restoration of
the Sonoran Desert ecosystem for generations to come.”


the Justice Department citation

Wayne Shifflett’s Statement

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740