Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Pennsylvania: Lawmakers vote to join the Violators Compact

Harrisburg – State lawmakers have delivered the second of a
one-two punch against poaching by passing legislation that enrolls
Pennsylvania in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.

Just months after enacting enhanced poaching penalties, Gov. Ed
Rendell signed SB 1200 into law Sept. 24, making Pennsylvania part
of a 38-state alliance against wildlife violators.

Poachers who lose hunting privileges in one member state face
license revocation in other member states. The Pennsylvania Game
Commission expects to be fully on-line with the compact within 60
days.

“Joining the compact sends a clear message that we don’t want
poachers even thinking about coming to Pennsylvania,” said game
commission spokesman Jerry Feaser. “We’ve had poachers from New
Hampshire and Massachusetts just this past season … folks who
couldn’t acquire an antlerless license in Pennsylvania deciding
they were going to take a deer anyway.”

By the same token, Pennsylvanians convicted of poaching in any
state, including their own, will lose the right to hunt elsewhere
in the compact, he said. “They can forget about planning that big
trip out West.”

The compact is not retroactive, so poachers convicted prior to
Pennsylvania’s official enrollment will not lose their hunting
privileges. And wildlife agencies will assess convictions on a
case-by-case basis, since game laws vary from one state to the
next.

Every compact state denotes its own charges, said the Game
Commission’s law enforcement chief Rich Palmer, who cited killing
bears over bait as an example. Baiting is legal in some states,
such as Maine, but not in Pennsylvania.

“Law enforcement officials in Maine would likely base revocation
on the illegal killing of the bear in Pennsylvania,” he said. “They
wouldn’t care how you did it as much as that you unlawfully
harvested a big game animal.”

Hunting with a semi-automatic rifle, which is prohibited in
Pennsylvania, is another example, Feaser said. “If a Pennsylvanian
is convicted of multiple big game kills with a semi-automatic in
states that allow semi-automatics, we would be more concerned about
the multiple kills than the firearm used,” he said.

Generally, states are concerned with higher-level offenses,
essentially summaries of the fourth degree or greater, Palmer
said.

It took years for Pennsylvania lawmakers to finally pass a
compact bill, with some arguing that it’s too inconvenient for
poachers to contest out-of-state charges. Rep. Robert Godshall,
R-Montgomery, has always been one of the more vocal opponents of
the compact, and voted against SB 1200 this year, because he said a
relative was “wrongly convicted” in Idaho.

An increasing number of states have joined the compact, and
Pennsylvania’s new automated license sales system enables law
enforcement officials to access the 38-state database. Palmer said
about 14,000 violators are listed in the Compact.

Joining the alliance is seen as a complement to the stiffer
poaching penalties also enacted this year. Jail time is now
possible, even for first-time offenders, and penalties are enhanced
across the board.

Although the Game Code now contains a felony statute for serial
poachers, a provision allows them to keep and purchase firearms, a
right denied felons convicted of non-game offenses under the
Pennsylvania Crimes Code. Federal law prohibits felons from owning
guns.

This past spring, the Game Commission’s board also increased the
amount of restitution the agency can seek from poachers, based both
on species and size.

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