November 17, 2010
By Dr. Dave Samuel
THE POACHING OF BIG BUCKS is nothing new, and, in the past, when those who did the deed got caught, they paid their minimal fines and the next year were back at it again. Even though wildlife are public property, for years society allowed greedy or ego-centered poachers to get off with a slap on the wrist. Poachers stole those bucks from the hunting and nonhunting publics, robbing them of the chance to see and hunt the animals. Just as bad or worse, big game animals have economic value, and the illegal killing of an animal robs the public financially. Significantly, the bigger the animal, the greater its value to hunters and nonhunters. In the past, fines and jail time have never equaled the monetary value of the animals poached.
In many states that has now changed, as law enforcement agencies have adopted the Boone and Crockett/Pope and Young scoring system to calculate a concrete value on animals, and they've used it to launch a major financial crackdown on poachers. Yes, when it comes to poaching big critters, the landscape is changing and restitution is the reason.
In 2007, a man in New Mexico poached a huge mule deer and paid $10,000 in restitution fees. The New Mexico law, passed in 2006, requires major restitution for bucks scoring over 200 inches. In 2008, Ohio adopted a restitution law, and as a result of this law a man recently paid $23,572 in restitution, plus fines and court costs, for poaching a 197-inch typical whitetail. The Ohio law applies to all bucks over 125 inches, which led to a fine of $5,628 for an Ohio man who poached a 155-inch buck. Two other Ohio men illegally shot a 186-inch buck, and that little act cost them $12,845 plus fines. Montana, too, is cracking down, and a couple there paid $19,000 in restitution for a poached animal.
From Wyoming to Utah to Iowa, these lists go on and on. Some states have had restitution wildlife laws for years (e.g. Montana 1987). Others, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, just passed such regulations in 2010.
I know some bowhunters don't care for record books, but here's a place where the scoring system for trophy bucks and other critters helps judges and magistrates quantify the value of wildlife so that restitution can be assessed to "repay" society for the loss of valuable animals. Not all states use a scoring system to determine fees, but Iowa, Ohio, and a growing number of other states now base restitution on animal size and quality -- the bigger the antlers, the bigger the fine.
Note that the Ohio regulation allows an added restitution. Ohio law states that "the chief of the division of wildlifeâ€¦may bring a civil action to recover possession of or the restitution value of any wild animal held, taken, bought, sold, or possessed in violation of this chapter of the Revised Code." After this civil action penalty is applied, the state can take an additional restitution penalty based on the formula, ((gross score â€“ 100)² x $1.65)." Thus, illegally shooting a 180-inch buck in Ohio will cost you $10,560, plus court costs, fines, and the restitution fee already assessed by the wildlife agency. That casts a whole new light on the concept of "cheap thrills."
Poachers in Ohio also automatically lose their hunting licenses. So, the DNR has a division rule that establishes restitution, then the court system uses this formula for all bucks more than 125 inches and determines another amount of restitution. First time offenders? They get no slack. Poaching out of season or "hunters" making illegal kills in season? Doesn't matter. It's all the same. And, again, the bigger the buck, the higher the fine. Watch for more states to implement restitution laws to crack down on wildlife and fish poachers.
Montana Frowns on Trail Cameras
Apparently there has been some Internet buzz about trail cameras being illegal in Montana. Montana's 2010 hunting regulations state: "It is illegal for a person to possess or use in the field any electronic or a camera device whose purpose is to scout the location of game animals or relay the information on a game animal's location or movement during any Commission adopted hunting season."
Now we learn that this regulation was implemented in 1999, and the above statement was simply a clarification of the original regulation. Does this mean that you can't use trail cameras to catch someone stealing your treestand? Maybe, maybe not. One Montana law enforcement official indicated that prosecutions would be on a case-by-case basis.
How about using cameras outside the hunting season? I'm not sure, although it appears it is illegal if you are scouting for game animals to help you hunt those animals later in the year. Probably better to be safe than sorry and forego trail cameras in Montana until such time that this regulation gets changed -- if it ever does.