Texas penalty system considered as model for poaching crimes in Ohio

DOW looking to toughen sanctions on
scofflaws

By Frank HincheyContributing Writer

Bowling Green, Ohio – Rep. Bob Latta, (R-Bowling Green) wants to
ensure his two daughters share his lifelong passion for hunting,
sportsmanship, and fair play in the fields and woodlands of
Ohio.

Concerned by an increasing number of poaching crimes in Ohio,
Latta, along with state Rep. Jimmy Stewart (R-Albany), and the DNR
Division of Wildlife are considering legislation to toughen
sanctions against poachers, especially those who target trophy game
species (Ohio Outdoor News, March 16).

‘My (two) daughters went through hunter education, promoting
hunting ethics and reading about ‘slob hunters’ and those who
trespass and give hunting a bad name,’ Latta said. ‘We need to
crack down on these individuals, and we want to provide the next
generation (of hunters) a better hunting experience.

‘I am known as hard-nosed when it comes to crime,’ Latta said,
especially, ‘when you a shoot a 15-point buck with a spotlight.
Guys jack deer and cut the heads off. I have a problem with
that.’

The lawmaker would like to see Ohio’s wildlife point enforcement
system retooled to be fair ‘but punish those who (hunt) illegally
and with an illegal weapon.’

Latta said it is possible that legislation could be drafted and
introduced in the General Assembly by the end of June, possibly in
the Agriculture Committee, and potentially acted upon in the
fall.

Under a 1994 Ohio law, the chief of the Division of Wildlife is
able to recover civil restitution for illegally taken wildlife with
minimum values for animals that range from $50 for some game birds
to $400 for a white-tailed deer and $1,000 for endangered and
threatened species.

Jim Lehman, the Division of Wildlife law enforcement
administrator, thinks the time is right to update and enhance
minimum values for wild animals.

‘We have to do what is reasonable,’ Lehman said. ‘Four hundred
dollars for a 200-plus (Boone & Crockett score) deer is not
reasonable. We will be making some changes, and restitution is one
of the things we are looking at.’

The DOW has been talking with wildlife counterparts around the
nation looking at different enforcement programs, including a
well-established civil restitution program in Texas.

‘Texas has a history,’ Lehman said. ‘They developed a system
that gave real values to certain species.’

Lehman said Ohio needs to develop a system that is acceptable to
courts and plans to consult with judges as the restitution system
is studied.

Legislators in Texas amended the Parks and Wildlife code in 1985
to allow the natural resource agency to seek civil restitution from
poachers. In 1996, minimum values were set on four trophy wildlife
species: white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and
bighorn sheep.

Texas Parks and Wildlife staff developed a system that would be
biologically defensible, said Kris Bishop, who administers the
restitution program in Texas. To determine a species’ worth, staff
ranked wildlife by groups and assigned a value based on eight
scoring criteria: recreation, aesthetic, educational, scarcity,
environmental tolerance, economics, recruitment, and ecological
role.

The value of aquatic resources was obtained from the American
Fisheries Society’s findings on fish kills and used a mathematical
formula to determine recreational and recovery values.

In 2004, the Texas legislature amended wildlife values upward to
adjust for current economic conditions and increasing cost of
administering the growing restitution program.

For example, new values for Texas wildlife include: bobwhite
quail, $26, buck white-tailed deer and eastern turkey, $881.50;
desert bighorn sheep, $4,780.50 and the bald eagle, $11,907.50.

Bishop said in a news release that ‘people need to realize the
consequences of poaching in Texas. They are stealing the state’s
resources and should be held accountable for the present-day value
of those resources.’

Bishop cited a case in Winkler County, Texas, where a poacher
was sued for restitution of nearly $10,000 for illegally shooting a
200-class mule deer.

If the Texas system for scoring wildlife was in effect in Ohio,
Bishop told Ohio Outdoor News a poached 150-class whitetail would
be valued at nearly $5,000 in a civil restitution claim.

Since 1985, Texas has assessed more than $8 million in civil
restitution and collected more than $5 million from poachers.

‘It shows we are having great success in collecting it,’ Bishop
said. The restitution goes into a fund that helps operate
law-enforcement programs, fish hatcheries, and management of
wildlife areas and state hunting properties.

‘We are proud of the program. The amount of money . . . is
funding we don’t have to ask for. It’s self-generated within the
department,’ Bishop said.

Texas legislators strengthened the program in 1999 by granting
the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department authority to refuse to
issue or renew hunting licenses and permits to people who fail to
pay a civil restitution penalty. At the time, more than 10,000
violators owed more than $3 million in restitution, Bishop
said.

For those who ignore paying restitution, the wildlife agency
sends up to five warning letters, with the fifth letter notifying
scofflaws their license has been suspended.

‘Game wardens like it,’ Bishop said. ‘The biggest impact is that
people realize there is another deterrent from just ‘another
ticket,’ and it makes them think twice about poaching.’

Bishop said public awareness of new laws, such as those Ohio
lawmakers are considering, is essential for successful
implementation and enforcement.

‘It is a fact that people are more understanding of new laws and
are more compliant if they have been educated as to the importance
and need for them and how programs like civil restitution will
benefit the conservation effort and serve as a . . . deterrent for
would-be lawbreakers,’ she said.

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