Bill: Poachers could lose license for 10 years

St. Paul — Perhaps, this third time will be a charm for legislation that would increase the penalties for the most egregious of poaching offenses in Minnesota.

The legislation would revoke fishing and hunting privileges for 10 years in Minnesota and reciprocal states and Canada for certain “gross overlimit” fish and game offenses, where restitution value reaches $2,000.

Currently, the most serious penalties currently kick in with $5,000 in restitution value and result in five years of lost privileges.

“You’d have to catch 67 walleyes over your limit, or shoot five bears or turkeys over your limit, or 40 ducks over your limit,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Law Enforcement Division director.

Almost identical legislation had gotten enough – and bipartisan – support last year, but was killed, in effect, when it was attached to other, less palatable legislation.

This year’s bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a former conservation officer, looks like it has a chance.

The bill has evolved since Gov. Mark Dayton initially announced an initiative for cracking down on gross overlimit cases in 2015. His bill initially would have made some of these crimes felonies.

“There wasn’t the appetite for this to be a felony,” said Smith, who testified in favor of the bill on Tuesday at the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance.

In the Senate, Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, are co-authors of the bill.

The bill has the backing of the Minnesota Turn in Poachers, Inc., the nonprofit that provides reward money for the state’s TIP hotline, and last session had the backing of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

“Losing your privileges for 10 years is a better deterrent than money,” said Dennis Mackedanz, executive director of TIP, while minding the organization’s Wall of Shame at the Outdoor News Deer and Turkey Classic last Friday. “Guys forget about the money, but they won’t forget they will lose 10 seasons.”

Cornish said such offenders not only reflect poorly on all sportsmen, they do so selfishly at the expense of the state’s shared natural resources.

“I don’t think there will be a problem with the legislation,” said Cornish, noting his role in starting up the Wall of Shame, which displays impressive trophy game and fish that have been taken illegally and seized. “This is meant for the bad guy. Nobody should shed any tears for anybody who has taken gross overlimits. I think what we have been finding out is that revocation will have more impact on them than anything. … They have an insatiable appetite for killing. If really hurts when they know they can’t be found hunting in the U.S. or Canada.”

The bill, thus far, has made it to the House floor and was referred to the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee where it will be heard next week.

“It’s been vetted through all of the committees a couple of times,” Smith said. “We haven’t reached out to anybody this year. Everybody knows that it is here again.”

Sticking points with the bill have been ironed out during the past three sessions. On top of reducing it to a larger loss of privileges instead of a felony, some trapping interests had some issues with it that were worked through, as well as some concerns about endangered species. Also, where the responsibility falls for prosecution was also determined, with county prosecutors now assuming that role.

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