HB238: Getting Tough on Poachers
By Larry S. Moore
Deer season is upon us with all the anticipation and excitement for that possibility of the Ohio big buck trophy. That means sleepless nights for deer hunters after seeing the “big one” but not getting a shot. In far too many instances Ohio’s law-abiding sportsmen and, in fact, all Ohioans are being robbed. As Ohio’s deer herd has grown and become known for quality hunting, so have the instances of poaching.
The problem has grown substantially since the first undercover operations about twenty years ago. Any poaching activity should never be tolerated. The number of investigations just in 2007 is staggering. I’ve gotten more than a dozen Division of Wildlife press releases just this year dealing with poaching. Many of these are major poaching groups or rings. Some are doing it for ego but many are poaching for dollars.
Let me flatly state, a very small minority like so many criminal activities, creates the problem. I hate to even refer to such thieves as hunters because they really are not hunters no more than meth lab operators are pharmacists. Overwhelmingly hunters abide by the law and make ethical decisions in the field. These are not simple cases of tracking a deer off the property where there is permission to hunt onto a posted property. These are not hunters trying to get their beagles back onto the correct property.
The poachers, and especially those involved in the rings, are thieves. They do not go afield during legal hunting hours with their family and friends to create a great outdoor memory. They are not even hunting – they are simply killing. They go afield with a goal to take as many trophy deer antlers and to kill as many deer as possible. They are taking our wildlife and the good name of the huge majority of hunters who are law abiding. The good news is that almost all the tips to the Division of Wildlife investigators have come from the real sportsmen and women of Ohio.
Earlier this year Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) and Rep. Jimmy Stewart (R-Albany) introduced House Bill 238 aimed at getting tough on the problem. This legislation is not going to make the poachers go away but it will hit them very hard in the pocket book. The bill will drastically alter the restitution value of any species that is unlawfully taken, bought, sold or possessed. Current law specifies the value of a white-tailed deer at $400 and a wild turkey at $300. The new legislation ties the restitution value to the score of the antlers of the white-tailed deer if the score is more than 125 inches. Scoring criteria is based on accepted Buckeye Big Buck type scoring measurements. A real trophy white-tailed deer might be valued at up to $10,000. That figure reflects the true market value of antlers that are being sold.
HB238 also requires that all hunting, fishing, trapping licenses and permits are revoke until the restitution is paid. Recent legislation was passed to include Ohio in the wildlife violator’s compact between neighboring states. Now the wildlife agencies can share data on convictions. Persons who are not eligible to purchase hunting, fishing or trapping licenses in Ohio will be barred from purchasing similar licenses in neighboring states. Likewise, persons convicted in neighboring states will be barred licenses in Ohio.
HB238 passed the Ohio House earlier this year and is now in the Ohio Senate awaiting committee hearings. While it is too late to get it in place to help protect Ohio’s wildlife from illegal activity this fall, the Ohio Senate needs to pass this legislation quickly.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a Region Leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award.