Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation this month that increases penalties for those convicted of poaching wildlife.
Gov. Parson signed HB260, called the Poaching Bill, into law July 11. The bill significantly raises fines for those convicted of illegally taking Missouri game and was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter (Jefferson City, Missouri) and Rep. Jered Taylor (Republic, Missouri).
The new fine amounts include $10,000 to $15,000 for each black bear or elk killed illegally and $1,000 to $5,000 for a whitetail buck killed illegally. In addition, the fine will be $500 to $1,000 for each wild turkey poached and $500 to $1,000 for each paddlefish.
The fines will go into effect beginning August 28.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) supported the passage of the bill.
Joe Jerek, news services coordinator for the MDC, said the fines are considered restitution payments for poaching game animals and are ordered by a judge. The money from the fines go to the state’s school moneys fund. The restitution payments are in addition to other fines and penalties for violating the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
Support for the bill came on the heels of five poaching cases in which elk were illegally taken in southern Missouri. The MDC recently reintroduced elk into the state, and it is currently illegal to hunt the species.
According to department records, 547 wild turkeys, 58 paddlefish and 4,731 deer were poached in 2017 and 2018.
Earlier this year, the conservation department and the Missouri Conservation Commission increased the penalty points given to individuals convicted of illegal activities, including poaching.
Jerek said depending on the violation, department staff can then assign persons convicted of violations anywhere from 0 to 16 points per violation.
Once a person accumulates 16 points, department staff will review the circumstances surrounding the violations and may recommend that the Missouri Conservation Commission consider revoking or suspending the person’s permit privileges for up to one year. If a person accumulates more than 16 points, the recommendation to the Commission might be for a suspension of more than one year.
Staff consider the person’s accumulated points for the past five years in making recommendations to the Commission.
Examples of recent MDC penalty-point increases are:
- Illegal baiting of wildlife from 4 to 8 points
- Buying, selling, having or releasing prohibited invasive species from 4 to 16 points
- Violations related to paddlefish from 4 to 12 points
- Taking over the legal limit of deer and turkeys from 8 to 12 points
- Doubling points for other violations related to illegal taking of wildlife from 4 to 8 points
- Releasing feral hogs into the wild from 0 to 16 points
Jerek said the state legislature has the authority to establish penalty classifications related to poaching and other wildlife violations. The MDC and the Missouri Conservation Commission set the regulations of the Wildlife Code of Missouri and conservation agents issue tickets for violations, such as for poaching.
Agents then submit those tickets to the appropriate county courts. County prosecutors then determine how to proceed with the violations. If the person is convicted of the violations by the county court, the judge then determines fines, jail time or other penalties. The money from fines is kept in the county and does not go to MDC.
He said conservation agents are also working with county prosecutors and judges to help reduce incidents of poaching and other violations by increasing penalties such as fines and jail time.
The department asks those that witness or suspect a wildlife violation to report it to the toll-free Operation Game Thief hotline number at 1-800-392-1111. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day. The caller can remain anonymous, and a citizen may ask to be considered for a reward if the tip leads to an arrest.
Reward money for both Operation Game Thief and Operation Forest Arson comes from a fund administered by a nine-member board. Donations to that fund can be sent to the Conservation Federation of Missouri at the following address:
Operation Game Thief/Forest Arson Reward Fund
C/O Conservation Federation of Missouri
728 West Main St.
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101