ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton called Friday for cracking down on poachers with tougher criminal penalties and longer revocations of their hunting and fishing privileges, a response to several recent incidents including the illegal killing of two bull elk in northwestern Minnesota this week.
The governor proposed a new felony-level penalty for poachers who take what state law defines as gross over-limits, and revoking hunting-and-fishing privileges for up to 10 years instead of the current five.
“The recently reported instances of wanton and wasteful poaching in Minnesota should offend the sensibilities of all ethical and law-abiding hunters and anglers,” Dayton said in a statement. “They are shameful criminal acts, and they should be treated as serious offenses by Minnesota laws.”
The thresholds for the tougher penalties would be four or more deer; two or more trophy deer; five or more bears or turkeys; 40 or more ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse or salmon; and 67 or more walleye or northern pike. The felony penalty would kick in if the restitution value of the animals was more than $2,000.
The announcement pointed to the unsolved killings near Grygla of two bulls in the state’s smallest elk herd, which is down to about 18 animals. In January, conservation officers seized 28 sets of deer antlers and other items in a poaching investigation near Dawson that resulted in charges against four men.
“Gross over-limit violations are not accidental,” Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in the statement. “The reforms being championed by Governor Dayton this year reflect the values of responsible Minnesota hunters and anglers.”
Felony-level penalties could include a year or more in prison and/or fines of more than $3,000. Current law makes these offenses gross misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000. A felony conviction would also result in losing the rights to own or carry guns and to vote, although the DNR’s enforcement chief, Col. Ken Soring, said that’s not the main intent.
“Our focus was to have higher penalties and longer revocation periods for people who steal resources from the people of Minnesota,” Soring said. The maximum potential prison terms and fines would be set by Minnesota Conference of Chief Judges, he said.
A game-and-fish bill moving through the Senate contains a 10-year revocation for gross over-limits but felony language was dropped in one committee stop. However, it still could be revived.
Several hunting and fishing groups welcomed the call for stronger penalties.
“To ethical sportsmen it’s just sickening,” said Anthony Hauck, a spokesman for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “It’s really sickening and we want to see it come to a stop. If some tougher penalties are what it takes, then we’re definitely for that.”
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