Increased fines await those who poach bucks

Lansing — State lawmakers recently approved legislation to stiffen penalties for poachers who fix their sights on trophy bucks.

Fines for illegally killing antlered deer in Michigan will increase substantially under legislation that was approved in November, and is awaiting the approval of Gov. Rick Snyder. Senate Bill 171 will add an additional $1,000 fine for any antlered deer taken illegally, as well as additional fines for each antler point over eight.

“The restitution value was only $1,000, and that was no matter what deer it was,” Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, told Michigan Outdoor News. “We wanted, initially, the restitution to be based on the Boone and Crockett score. The only objection was from the (DNR) early on with, ‘How do we implement the Boone and Crockett’ (measurements)?

“Really, this is to address the trophy poaching rings, the people who make significant money selling these racks.”

DNR Legislative Affairs Director Trevor VanDyke said DNR officials were concerned fines based on the Boone and Crockett scoring system called for in the original bill would be too complicated, and would result in unnecessarily high fines in some cases. DNR officials worked with legislators to simplify the fee structure, which is now $1,000 for any deer, plus an additional $1,000 for antlered deer. The poaching fine then increases further for deer with eight or more points – $500 per point for eight to 10 points, and $750 per point for deer poached with more than 10 points. SB 171 also requires a 2-year hunting license revocation for first-time offenders, and a seven-year revocation for habitual poachers.

With the Boone and Crockett system, “even if it was a small buck, it was still a hefty fine,” VanDyke said. “We wanted it to be simple and efficient, and most people know the point system. From what we learned from other states … the judicial system (is hesitant to impose) such large fines.

“A lot of courts weren’t willing to enforce the stiff fines.”

Jim Pryce is a regional director for MUCC, and he first proposed a resolution to pursue increased fines for trophy bucks through the club after MUCC hosted a presentation on poaching by two conservation officers several years ago.

MUCC adopted the resolution, and Pryce helped advocate for legislation introduced in the 2012 Legislature to address the problem, but the issue was overshadowed by discussions about right-to-work legislation, Pryce said.

Pryce was hoping to retain the Boone and Crockett system for the fines because it would have imposed stiffer penalties for trophy buck poachers, but acknowledged SB 171 is a significant improvement over the current $1,000 fine for any deer.

“It is somewhat (disappointing) because it’s not as strict as we would have like to have seen it, but it’s a move in the right direction,” Pryce said. “Maybe down the road if it’s not the deterrent we are looking for we can go back … and see if we can make it stricter.”

VanDyke said poaching in Michigan is a significant problem that has resulted in about 1,600 deer taken illegally since 2003, but officials are unsure how many were trophy bucks.

“Under current laws the fine is $1,000 per deer, so we didn’t really track” the sex or rack size, he said.

SB 171 is tie-barred to Senate Bill 172, which increases fines for trespassers who poach an animal.

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