Because of two important pieces of legislation enacted last year, 2011 should be an unhappy new year for poachers and wildlife violators.
Saturday, Pennsylvania officially joined 35 other states as a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Under this alliance, wildlife violators who are convicted of certain serious offenses and have their hunting privileges revoked here in Pennsylvania will also lose their hunting privileges in all IWVC member states. And violators who lose their hunting privileges in any IWVC state will not be able to obtain a Pennsylvania hunting license.
The IWVC requires its member states to report the license revocations for violators whose offenses involve: hunting or trapping while on revocation; unlawful use of lights to take wildlife; buying and selling game; hunting or trapping under the influence; shooting at or causing injury to a human; counterfeiting, altering or forging a license or tag; threatened or endangered species violations; assault, interference or bodily injury to a wildlife conservation officer; illegal taking or possession of big game in closed season; and certain other accumulated wildlife violations.
Approximately 1,000 convicted violators have their hunting and trapping privileges revoked in Pennsylvania each year. Pennsylvania Game Commission officials estimate that about 25 percent of those revocations are likely to involve violations that need to be reported to the IWVC.
On July 9, 2010, Gov. Rendell signed legislation that dramatically increased fines and penalties, including possible jail time, for many poaching offenses. This new fine and penalty structure went into effect back in early September, and both the legislators who worked to pass it and Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are hopeful the stern measures now in place will be a strong deterrent to those who commit crimes against wildlife and all of us who enjoy the outdoors.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe, 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."
As an example of the changes, a Game Commission spokesperson recently cited a poaching case that occurred in late 2009 in which two individuals killed eight deer over a two-day period. Under the law at that time, the maximum penalty for this disgraceful act was a fine of $6,400 and a three-year hunting license revocation. The same offense now would find a violator facing up to $15,000 in fines, up to three years in jail, and a license revocation of 15 years.
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 nonpayment of fines from 120 days to six months.
In spite of these new and hard-line measures to deal with wildlife violators, far too many individuals will still choose to break our game laws. And in order to face the stiffer penalties they deserve, these violators must be caught and successfully prosecuted. The involvement of concerned citizens with knowledge of illegal activity can be one of the greatest assets for catching and punishing these wrongdoers.
The Game Commission maintains a special toll-free hotline via its Turn-In-a-Poacher program that enables citizens to report individuals suspected of killing an endangered or threatened species or illegally taking multiple big-game animals (white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey or elk). A person who supplies a tip that leads to the successful prosecution of those offenses can be eligible for a $100 reward.
Witnesses can call 1-888-742-8001 24 hours a day or fill out a TIP reporting form on the Game Commission website - www.pgc.state.pa.us. All information provided to the TIP program is confidential, and witnesses can remain anonymous if desired. In order to receive a reward, however, you must provide contact information.