Pa. pulls welcome mat back from poachers

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director
Carl  Roe said, starting today, the commonwealth has begun to
reverse its reputation of being a state with minimal risks for
chronic poachers as new penalties — including higher fines and
possible jail time — go into effect.

“Some chronic or commercial poachers considered Pennsylvania’s
previous fines as merely a ‘cost of doing business,'” Roe said.
“However, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Gov. Rendell – with
the support of the Game Commission and law-abiding hunters and
trappers — pulled the welcome mat back from those who would
consider poaching Pennsylvania wildlife when they enacted a law
establishing a new slate of fines and penalties for those convicted
of various poaching-related offenses.”

Act 54 of 2010 was introduced as House Bill 1859, and sponsored
by House Game and Fisheries Committee Chairman Ed Staback. The bill
was approved by the House on July 21, 2009, by a vote of 196-3. The
Senate, after making minor adjustments to the bill, approved the
measure unanimously on July 3, 2010, followed by a 189-6
concurrence vote in the House also on July 3, which sent the bill
onto Gov. Rendell, who signed it on July 9.

“We want to thank Rep. Staback for his hard work and diligence
in getting House Bill 1859 through the system,” Roe said. “It was
not an easy task, but a needed one.

“Increasing penalties for serious violations is one of the
operational objectives within the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s
Strategic Plan. This marks the first comprehensive piece of
legislation to increase Game and Wildlife Code penalties since
1987, and we believe it will significantly enhance wildlife
protection in the commonwealth, especially since this marks the
first time that some poachers could actually face prison time for
their actions.”

Rep. Staback noted that, from Day One, when he first sat down
with  Roe to talk about putting an anti-poaching bill together, he
wanted the penalties to be so tough that they would become a
deterrent, keeping people from committing the crime in the first
place.

“I wanted that shooter to know that he faces high fines and jail
time for breaking wildlife laws, not just a slap on the wrist like
before,” Rep. Staback said. “After three years of effort, working
side by side with the Game Commission, the new laws on the book
treat poachers and black marketers just as they are — criminals
who deserve the stiff penalties that they now will face in the
court of law.”

Roe noted that, before the passage of this bill, a poacher could
kill every big game animal – which includes deer, elk, bear and
turkey — in Pennsylvania and the penalty was the legal equivalent
of a traffic ticket with no possibility of jail time.

“Under this legislation, those convicted of killing five or more
big game animals, or three big game poaching offenses within seven
years, will face possible felony-level penalties ranging from
$1,000 to up to $15,000, loss of license privileges for 15 years,
and up to three years in prison,” Roe said. “In fact, even the
poaching of a single deer now carries a minimum of a $1,000 fine
and up to 90 days in jail, with five years license revocation.

“This is an enormous step forward in creating deterrence to
poaching. It treats the theft of wildlife, which is what poaching
is, similar to the theft of anything else in regards to punishment,
and ultimately enhancing the protection of the commonwealth’s
wildlife resource.”

As examples of how the new law would be applied, Rich Palmer,
Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection director, noted that
a case from last December in which two individuals who went on a
two-day poaching spree that resulted in at least eight dead deer
were liable for up to $6,400 in fines and three years of hunting
license revocations. Under the new law, for committing the same
offense a violator would be looking at up to $15,000 in fines, up
to three years in jail, and up to 15 years of license
revocation.

In another example, two individuals were found guilty of killing
a black bear out of season last year. They were each charged with
committing a summary offense, with fines up to $1,500 and three
years license revocation. Anyone caught committing the same crime
now is facing a misdemeanor offense with fines up to $3,000, up to
six months imprisonment, and five years of hunting license
revocation.

The new law also includes heightened penalties for the buying
and selling of game; increased fines for summary offenses, such as
using unlawful methods or devices; increased penalties for the
killing of threatened or endangered species; and increased jail
time for non-payment of fines from 120 days to six months.

“For the person who jacklights a couple of deer, kills a bear to
sell its gall bladder or claws, or goes on a killing spree for some
twisted reason, Pennsylvania’s wildlife protection laws now for the
first time include felonies and misdemeanors that fit the crime,”
Rep. Staback said. “Sportsmen are the most vocal group demanding
tough treatment of poachers because they know that not only does
poaching deplete a resource, it gives a black eye to the sport that
we all enjoy and respect.”

Roe noted that a second bill, Senate Bill 1200, would complete
the state’s effort to discourage would-be poachers from committing
their crimes in Pennsylvania. SB 1200 is Senate Game and Fisheries
Committee Chairman Richard Alloway’s measure to enroll Pennsylvania
in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. This bill passed the
Senate unanimously on March 23, 2010, and presently is awaiting a
final vote in the House of Representatives.

“By having Pennsylvania part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator
Compact, anyone convicted of poaching-related offenses in
Pennsylvania also would lose their hunting privileges in other
IWVC-member states,” Roe said. “Similarly, those convicted of
poaching-related offenses in other IWVC-member states would not be
able to lawfully hunt in Pennsylvania.”

Given the variations of hunting laws from state to state, SB
1200 spells out the specific hunting violations that would place
someone who loses their hunting privileges in another state on the
Pennsylvania list of ineligible license buyers. This list also
represents the only violations committed in Pennsylvania that will
be added to the IWVC database.

Those specific offenses listed in Senate Bill 1200 include:
unlawfully using lights to take wildlife; buying and selling game;
hunting or furtaking under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
shooting at or causing injury to a human; counterfeiting, altering
or forging a license or tag; committing violations related to
threatened or endangered species; assaulting/interfering or causing
bodily injury to a wildlife conservation Officer; hunting or
furtaking while on revocation; and illegally taking or possessing
big game in closed season.

The list also would include those convicted of other wildlife
crimes classified as fourth-degree summaries or greater, such as
road hunting, if there are two convictions within a 24-month
period.

“Enactment of these two bills will go a long way toward closing
Pennsylvania’s borders to those who have proven themselves to be
unrepentant poachers,” Roe said. “House Bill 1859 already has been
enacted. The second bill, Senate Bill 1200, is nearing the finish
line, and I urge our state legislators to enact this bill to
improve the Game Commission’s ability to protect wildlife.

“Also, I thank the many sportsmen’s organizations for once again
standing up for wildlife and for law-abiding and ethical hunters
and trappers for supporting these two measures.”

With the increased penalties and the possibility of Pennsylvania
soon joining the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, Roe noted
that there is yet a third reason that poachers need to be wary of
perpetuating their illegal practices in Pennsylvania: the general
public.

“The Game Commission is noticing a renewed
‘we’re-not-going-to-take-it-anymore’ attitude from concerned
residents and law-abiding hunters who are taking the initiative to
report what they are seeing and hearing, and we applaud them for
their efforts,” Roe said.

“Calls and e-mails to our Turn-In-a-Poacher (TIP) Hotline have
increased and resulted in several solid convictions. In fact, some
of the information is so overwhelming that defendants simply pled
guilty rather than having the embarrassment of going to court to
try and defend their indefensible actions.

“The bottom line is that Pennsylvania will no longer be walked
on — like a welcome mat — by those who abuse their hunting and
trapping privileges in our state or other states.”

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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