Columbus — It was June of 2008 when a group of Wisconsin anglers – some even tournament fishermen – descended on Lake Erie and proceeded to double bag on the lake’s popular walleyes.
These men were caught in the act by the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife and they became the first prosecuted under the Wildlife Violator Compact.
“The information quickly spread that if you get caught (poaching) in Ohio, there could be ramifications elsewhere,” said Dirk Cochran, a law enforcement program administrator with the Division of Wildlife.
The Wildlife Violator Compact is an agreement between states that recognizes the suspension of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses in member states.
Ohio is one of 43 U.S. states that participates in the compact, said Cochran. Five more states are now in the process of joining the compact.
“It’s a good way to ensure that those who violate (Ohio law) follow through with their (court) obligations,” Cochran said. “This program really helps us deter poaching.”
Ohio joined the compact in January of 2008 after the Ohio legislature passed it in July of 2007.
The idea is based on the driver’s license model under which, if your driving privileges are suspended in one state, they’re suspended in all, Cochran said.
“In the early 1990s, wildlife officers recognized the need for the compact because of poaching of our deer and other resources,” he said.
In Ohio in particular, it was trophy deer and turkey poaching that got the ball rolling, Cochran said.
“These cases just continued to bring home the point that lengthy suspensions were being given … but these people were just able to go elsewhere to hunt, kind of thumbing their nose at us,” Cochran said.
Prior to Ohio joining the compact, defendants in poaching cases told Cochran as much: They would just go to another state and hunt.
The compact changed all that.
Since 2008, Ohioans have lost their hunting privileges in West Virginia, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana, and Pennsylvania among other states. Those are the top five for suspension of Ohioans’ licenses.
Also since 2008, nonresidents from Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, and West Virginia have lost their hunting privileges in Ohio. Cochran said the majority of these suspensions was due to violations committed on Lake Erie.
“We all know the old adage about what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Cochran said. “With the Wildlife Violator Compact, what happens where you go goes home with you.”
The benefits of the compact, which have been overwhelmingly supported by Ohio resident hunters, are several, Cochran said.
First, and most obviously, it keeps habitual poachers from obtaining hunting, fishing, or trapping licenses. It gives uniformity across jurisdictions and streamlines the violation process, Cochran said.
Since the program’s inception in 1998, 50,600 people have been entered into the compact for violations they were convicted of in the U.S. Of those, 837 Ohioans have seen their hunting, trapping, or fishing license suspended since 2008.
So far in 2014, 98 nonresidents have been enrolled in the compact for violations they committed in Ohio.
“The compact is a great tool to identify people who continually violate our laws,” Cochran said. “ … It’s clearly a success story throughout the U.S. in dealing with wildlife law enforcement.”