Missouri House proposes increased fines for poaching

It’s cheaper for a non-Missourian to come into the state, poach an animal, and pay the fine for that, than it is to buy an out-of-state hunter tag.  The Missouri House has voted to change that.

Representative Jered Taylor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to send to the Senate House Bill 260, which would increase the fines for poaching wild turkeys, deer, elk, black bears, or paddlefish in Missouri.

“What I want to do is I want to make people think twice before they pull the trigger,” said bill sponsor Jered Taylor (R-Republic).

The bill would increase to between $500 and $1000 the fine for poaching a wild turkey or paddlefish; between $2000 and $5000 the fine for poaching a white-tailed deer; and between $10,000 and $15,000 the fine for poaching a black bear or elk.

Missouri in 2011 began bringing elk into the state from Kentucky with an aim of reestablishing the population of the animal here, and an eventual goal of having an elk hunting season.  The Department of Conservation says elk hunting could begin as early as next year and that could bring millions of dollars into the state, but Taylor said poaching is hurting the chances of that happening, and the current fines for poaching are not a deterrent.

“We’re spending on average about $30- to $40-thousand dollars per elk when we brought them back to Missouri to reintroduce them and the penalty to poach an elk is about $150 to $200 right now, if you’re caught,” said Taylor.

The poaching of paddlefish has been very lucrative because paddlefish roe is often sold on the black market as caviar.  This means one fish can be worth thousands of dollars.

St. Louis Representative Tracy McCreery (D) said she was glad to see the bill includes increased fines for poaching those fish.

“Paddlefish used to be abundant in the State of Missouri … now the reason they’re in Missouri is because we’re spending taxpayer money for stocking them … yet the fines for poaching them – for stealing them – are so low that people from out of state are willing to come in to steal paddlefish that is being purchased with taxpayer money,” said McCreery.

When a fine is collected under HB 260 that money would go to the school district in which the poaching incident occurred.

The House voted 149-10 to send the bill to the Senate.

Similar legislation was sent to the Senate last year and referred to a committee, but it did not receive a hearing.

Missouri House proposes civil penalties for poaching

The state House has voted to increase fines for poaching because it’s cheaper for non-Missouri residents to poach than to hunt with a license.

Representative Jered Taylor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That’s what Representative Jered Taylor (R-Nixa) told his colleagues when he presented House Bill 1873, which creates a civil penalty for poaching.

“Currently when an individual is caught poaching … the Conservation Department will write a ticket to that individual.  It will go to the Fine Collection Center where fines are typically no more than $200, so it’s actually cheaper for an individual from out of state to come into Missouri and not get a hunting permit, attempt to get a deer by poaching illegally, and risk the chance of being caught because the highest it will be is $199, where an out-of-state permit is $250,” said Taylor.  “It’s cheaper for them to take that risk.”

Under HB 1873 anyone found guilty of killing, chasing, processing, or disposing of animals listed in the bill must pay restitution, which will go to the school district in which the individual was caught.  Penalties would range from between $375 and $750 dollars for a turkey to between $2,500 and $5,000 for a black bear or elk.

The legislation would create a civil penalty of between $500 and $1,000 for each paddlefish taken illegally.  Taylor explained that was an addition to this year’s version of the legislation because of growing problems regarding those fish.

“Individuals are collecting the paddlefish, collecting the eggs and selling it – I believe it’s about $200 an ounce for these eggs to use as caviar, and it’s a big problem,” said Taylor.

The bill had widespread support, particularly from lawmakers like Don Rone (R-Portageville), who have been angered by cases of poaching they know of first hand.

Rone said a man from Tennessee came to his district when high water had a number of deer contained in an area.

“There was a world-class buck that we had been following on our farm for four years.  We would not shoot this deer because we knew this deer had the capabilities of becoming a world-class buck,” said Rone.  “This gentleman killed that deer in the woods when the deer was corralled in the five-acre woods.  That’s why we need to have this fine up higher than we have it today … what did he get?  $175 fine.”

Taylor said the proposal mainly targets repeat offenders that would be identified by Conservation Department officials and local prosecutors working together.

Backers of the bill said it will help dissuade poachers from taking wildlife away from Missourians, and say Missouri has some of the lowest poaching fines in the country.

The House voted 130-19 to send the bill to the Senate for its consideration.