Legislative proposal would boost poaching penalties

Albany, N.Y. — Two bills now in the state Legislature would quadruple the minimum fine for shooting deer out of season or after legal shooting hours. And while many sportsmen’s groups across the state applaud the effort, one sees potential problems in their implementation.

Assembly bill A7171 – and a Senate counterpart, S4727-a, would increase the penalties for illegally taking of deer out of season from the current minimum of $250. 

“Any deer in New York state is owned by all the citizens of New York,” said Kip Adams, director of education and outreach for the Quality Deer Management Association. “Any that are poached is stealing from the sportsmen and women and all the citizens of New York.”

The Assembly bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake). The companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Joseph Robach (R,C,IP-Rochester). Both are now in their respective environmental conservation committees.

Currently, the minimum fines for the illegal taking of deer sit at $250. Under the new legislation, that minimum would jump to $1,000. For those with prior poaching convictions, the minimum would be $2,000 and they would lose hunting privileges for five years.

“We’ve pushed this very hard,” Adams said. “It’s also a personal safety factor, so we’re a big supporter of the increasing of the fines and fees associated with poaching. We have been working with numerous conservation organizations. It’s not ‘our’ bill by any means; there has been lots of support from sportsmen and women across the state.”

At least one sportsmen’s organization, however, is opposing the bill as it’s currently written, saying that while its intent is “well meaning,” unless judges across the state accept the changes they are unlikely to be enforced.

“Experience has shown that the low end (currently $250) is probably appropriate,” said officials of the New York State Conservation Council in a memo of opposition to the bills. “If the court finds the minimum penalty too high, judges tend to dismiss the misdemeanor charge and accept a plea to a violation in the more amenable $0 to $250 penalty range.”

“The major problem, which is not going to be resolved by legislation, is getting the magistrates to impose the appropriate penalties for offenses,” said Council president Chuck Parker. “If the fines become even higher the problem will only worsen. Having local sportsmen contacting local magistrates and asking why a fine imposed was so low may be more effective than any new legislation.”

For its part, QDMA will continue to support the bill and is encouraging sportsmen and women around the state to contact members of both environmental conservation committees in the Assembly and Senate to move the bills to a vote.

Too, the bill doesn’t cover those “honest mistakes” that sometimes happen in the field. It’s important to point out, according to Adams, that this bill would only pertain to deer taken illegally out of season, whether according to calendar or time of day. 

“Some people were worried that if they mistakenly shoot a deer they would be in for a huge fine, but this is specifically for those taken outside legal shooting hours or season,” he said. “This isn’t for those honest mistakes, but for those who intentionally try to poach deer.”

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