“Environmental crime usually has a lot of economic benefit and, in general, little penalty applied. It is more profitable for the criminal to commit a crime because he is less persecuted by society and the judges”. The commander of the Civil Guard, José Manuel Quintana Touza, thus summarizes the crimes against nature, whose investigations, which are increasingly complex —from the trafficking of protected animals to the illegal export of waste or theft of water— depend in Spain on various police forces and administrations. To centralize all the information, the Nature Protection Service (seprona) and the Ministry of Ecological Transition have launched the National Central Office (OCN) for the Environment, a CNI for ecological crimes directed by this commander with the mission of coordinating all those involved in the protection of the environment.

The office that Quintana – 45 years old – shares with the three colleagues who make up the new office shows on the wall images and press clippings of different Civil Guard operations in nature. “Four arrested in Cáceres for using poisoned baits and illegal hunting traps,” reads one. “An investigation after locating in Punta Umbría a dying dog trapped in a trap,” says another. They all refer to Operation Antitoxa campaign that every year searches for poison baits, traps and other indiscriminate hunting systems that can affect all kinds of animals.

“The OCN is at the Seprona headquarters because this unit is the reference in Spain in terms of environmental crimes: it is a highly specialized comprehensive body made up of almost 1,900 agents with a long history and a great territorial deployment”, comments the agent from his office. However, similar infractions or crimes may be the responsibility of the National Police, regional police, autonomous communities, town halls… For this reason, the new office’s mission is to exchange information with all these entities to obtain a much more complete map of environmental problems and help fight them. Of course, it is not planned that they carry out joint units, but it is an information and coordination task.

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The National Central Office has been operating informally since 2020, with contacts between Seprona agents and other bodies. However, this Tuesday it celebrates its first official and face-to-face meeting, which is expected to be attended by the National Police, regional police, hydrographic conferences and NGOs related to nature conservation and even some hunting federations. “We are going to try to establish a coordination system with periodic or thematic meetings with the rest of the police and organizations,” says Quintana.

In the same office is Juan Carlos González, a 52-year-old civil guard, more than half of them in Seprona and 12 in the statistics department, a task that is intended to be promoted in the OCN. “Statistics are fundamental in ecological crimes to know what problems there are. We are going to try to collect all administrative infractions and criminal offenses against the environment in Spain, something that is not being done at the moment. For that we need everyone’s cooperation. In this way we will be able to have much more complete environmental data, which includes those of the autonomous communities and those of other bodies”, says González.

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Plan against poaching of wild species

This pioneering office arises from the Spanish Action Plan against Illegal Trafficking and International Poaching of Wild Species (Tifies) of the Ministry for Ecological Transition, so the fight against this scourge is one of its priorities. “Spain, in general, is not a destination country for protected species, but it is a transit country for animals that go to the rest of Europe or Latin America. Above all, reptiles and birds, which are very easy to hide in suitcases, and very profitable, because the bad guy puts 30 specimens of each species in a suitcase and if 26 die he doesn’t care, because the other four are protected and highly valued, so it is profitable for them. Ivory is also sent to China for traditional medicine,” says the commander.

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The OCN also collects information on illegal hunting and fishing, the export of waste without permission to third countries (a problem that has not stopped growing since China banned the import of this type of material), and any other issue that affects the environment.

José Manuel Quintana Touza, commander of the Civil Guard and head of the new National Central Office for the Environment (OCN), based in Madrid.
José Manuel Quintana Touza, commander of the Civil Guard and head of the new National Central Office for the Environment (OCN), based in Madrid.

With these data, they prepare periodic bulletins —called Environmental Intelligence Bulletins— which are sent to other Spanish and American police forces, and are also translated into English to be sent to Europol. They sent one, for example, on the protection of birds that die electrocuted because the electrical poles are in poor condition and poorly marked, a conclusion they reached with the contributions of the NGO Bird Life SEO. Another of them referred to the environmental problems generated by the masks scattered around the countryside in the middle of the pandemic. “They are bulletins of five to eight pages where we expose the problems that we are detecting, how the violation of legality is specified and the modus operandi of the offenders,” says Quintana.

Meanwhile, Ecological Transition can propose topics to investigate or search for information, as well as provide training for the specialization of agents. And when a day is celebrated with the Red Jaguarwhich brings together Latin American police officers, the ministry supports with experts and specialists.

The head of the new OCN believes that starting this Tuesday there will be more coordination between all those in charge of protecting nature. And, he hopes, a greater social awareness: “Society needs to see that poisoning protected species is a very serious crime, not only for the animals but because other animals eat the poisoned ones and that can end up entering human consumption. . But it seems that there is still not so much pressure against the criminals who attack nature, except when it touches you very closely.

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