Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Poaching fines: a budget solution?


Madison Sportsmen and conservation officials opposed to the
Legislature’s skimming of $1.35 million in stamp funds to cover DNR
budget shortfalls are wondering whether it isn’t time to allow more
poaching fines to be used directly by the DNR.

Wisconsin Outdoor News reader Harry Wood, of West Allis,
investigated the distribution of fines collected from conservation
violations with the help of DNR warden Dale Hochhausen.

Wood insists the Legislature, by working through the Joint
Finance Committee, could come up with the $1.35 million by making
some changes to how poaching fines are shared and without shorting
the state’s education fund, which now receives money from the

Several state conservation leaders, who wish to remain anonymous
for now, like the idea and hope legislators take a look at Wood’s

DNR chief warden Randy Stark cautiously offered his support to a
couple of changes that could collect extra money for the agency.
Stark’s fears are twofold he doesn’t want to public to think the
DNR would be skimming from the education fund, and he doesn’t want
to give the impression that wardens are out there shaking down
sportsmen to fill DNR coffers.

Dan Johnson, an assistant with Sen. Neal Kedzie, the chairman of
the Senate Environmental Committee, said he thought legislators
would be willing to look at the idea, but said even if the idea
might work, it may not replace the JFC’s proposal to slide the
$1.35 million out of the waterfowl, Great Lakes trout and salmon,
and turkey stamp funds.

Here’s what Wood has suggested, based on what he learned from
Hochhausen. Wood used the fine for fishing without a license
(resident) as an example. For that violation, a resident would pay
a total penalty of $175.80. The actual fine for that violation is
only $20 of the $175.80 total.

That $20 goes to the state education fund, and would continue to
do so under his proposal.

Court costs are $119. No one could touch that money, nor the
$4.80 penalty assessment. In this case, the $119 court costs are
divided up as follows: $25 for court costs, $10 or 1 percent
(whichever is greater) for jail assessment, $9 for justice
information fee, $7 for crime lab and drug enforcement assessment,
and $68 for a court service fee.

There’s also a $15 natural resource assessment and $17 natural
resource restitution. The $32 from those two sources does go into
the DNR’s fish and wildlife account. The natural resource
assessment is set at 75 percent of the forfeiture (or in this case,
75 percent of $20).

Stark suggested that one thing the Legislature could do is
increase the natural resource assessment from 75 percent of the
forfeiture to 100 percent of the forfeiture. Under that scenario,
the assessment for a resident fishing license violation would
increase from $15 to $20, so the DNR would gain $5 on every
resident fishing license violation.

The forfeiture and natural resource assessment would be the same
for nonresidents.

Stark said fishing without a license is one of the most common
violations found by DNR conservation wardens.

This same change could be made for every violation included in
the “Chapter 29” laws, which cover most of the hunting, fishing,
and trapping laws.

However, there are other types of violations written up by
wardens that could be modified by the Legislature.

For instance, there is no natural resources assessment or
restitution applied to violations like littering or nonregistered
boats because those violations are not part of the Chapter 29 laws.
Hunting before or after hours is in Chapter 10 there is a natural
resources assessment, but no natural resource restitution (because
a license is not involved).

Nor are there extra assessments for any state property
violations, under Code 45, for violations such as leaving a tree
stand up on state land, or the illegal harvest of trees.

“There is room to ante up a few more dollars from poachers if
someone saw fit to broaden the scope of natural resource
assessments beyond Chapter 29,” Stark said. “There are some things
that could be done. The main thing would be to expand current
Chapter 29 resource assessments from 75 percent of the forfeiture
to 100 percent, and then broaden the application of natural
resource assessments to violations beyond Chapter 29. None of this
has been talked about.”

Stamp fund update

DNR Secretary Scott Hassett was to have met with legislators on
Wednesday, May 11 to continue talking about whether the JFC would
maintain its plan of shifting $1.35 million from three wildlife and
fish stamp funds and, if so, whether the JFC intended to cut the
DNR’s five regional wardens, or whether the JFC meant to cut five
supervisory spots from the Madison office.

“We’re talking to DNR and Scott Hassett today,” Johnson said on
May 11, speaking on Kedzie’s behalf. However, Johnson noted that
while Kedzie is chairman of the Senate environmental committee, he
is not on the JFC. “There has been some communication with the JFC,
but as of today, the JFC motion stands.”

Johnson said Kedzie and a number of other legislators, including
JFC members, have fielded many calls from sportsmen who are upset
about the JFC’s plan to use stamp funds to cover DNR

“They’re (JFC) still talking about it it (calls) is having an
effect, but it’s hard to take the temperature of the JFC, not being
on the committee,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), chairman of the
Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said they believe the JFC
intended to cut five Madison supervisory positions, not the DNR’s
five regional warden positions.

Stark said the language of the motion appears to target the five
regional wardens.

Gunderson said the JFC motion states “regional managers” in the
Bureau of Law Enforcement. He said that sounds like five
supervisors working in Madison, not five field spots.

Former DNR secretary George Meyer, now working for the Wisconsin
Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin Waterfowl Association executive
director Jeff Nania are working to keep the $1.35 million in the
stamp funds. Other conservation groups, including the La Crosse
County Conservation Alliance (see Commentary on page 3) are asking
the JFC to reconsider.

“This is a serious blow to state waterfowl hunters,” Nania said.
“Despite the statements of legislators, there are many habitat
projects that will not be built in the state because of the taking
of these funds.”

“While money was not taken from the segregated inland trout
stamp or the pheasant stamp because of their low balances, pheasant
hunters and trout fishermen are also strongly opposed to the taking
of any segregated stamp funds because it establishes a clear
precedent of taking dedicated stamp funds to bail out DNR deficits
that exist because legislators do not want to sufficiently increase
the base hunting and fishing license fee,” Meyer added.

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