I see it as a duty of sportsman to at least email your reps and senators in support of this bill. Also let them know that USP does NOT represent PA sportman!!! If this bill doesn't pass, it'll be because of USP. They are the only ones!!
By Christian Berg | Of The Morning Call
February 19, 2008
Matthew Teehan is all too familiar with Pennsylvania's rampant wildlife poaching problem.
As a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Teehan is routinely dispatched to investigate the discovery of illegally killed deer, bears, turkeys and other wildlife.
Teehan said one of the more high-profile cases in recent memory occurred the week after the regular deer-hunting season ended in December, when a landowner discovered numerous deer carcasses in his North Whitehall field.
''We found the parts of seven deer, and on some of them, the backstraps had been removed,'' Teehan said. ''They just shot them, took the choicest [meat] and dumped them on someone else's property.''
In his Lehigh County district alone, Teehan said, the number of poaching cases runs between 25 and 30 annually -- a total that doesn't include instances of wildlife killed improperly during established hunting seasons.
Richard Palmer, director of the commission's Bureau of Wildlife Protection, said the abuses documented by Teehan are a small slice of a growing statewide problem. Over the past two years, Palmer said, the number of poaching complaints received from the public has risen 30 percent in some areas.
And in the past three years, Palmer said, just three offenses -- unlawful killing of big game, unlawful possession of wildlife and illegal use of lights while hunting -- have resulted in more than 1,000 prosecutions annually and accounted for 16 percent of all citations issued.
State Rep. Edward G. Staback, D-Lackawanna, said the disturbing upward trend in poaching prompted him last month to introduce House Bill 2205, which would dramatically increase poaching penalties and provide for the forfeiture of firearms, vehicles, boats and other property used in the commission of wildlife crimes.
Under the bill, violators who kill three or more big-game animals in a single incident -- or get caught three or more times during a 10-year period -- would face felony charges that carry up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
''I have absolutely no pity and compassion for someone like that,'' said Staback, an avid hunter and chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. ''He should pay the price.''
Currently, most wildlife violations are categorized as summary offenses -- on par with crimes such as littering and running a stop sign -- and Pennsylvania poachers face the possibility of jail time only in cases that involve threatened or endangered species.
Staback's bill already has received strong endorsements from the commission, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and even the Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest anti-hunting organization.
''The union of such a broad coalition of interest groups is evidence of both the need to address rampant poaching in Pennsylvania and the overwhelming support for such a goal,'' said Andrew Page, director of the society's hunting campaign. ''Wildlife belongs to all people, but poachers step into Pennsylvania's backyards to exploit animals for their own personal gain or profit knowing they will most likely not be caught.''
If adopted, Palmer said, House Bill 2205 would mark the first significant increase in poaching penalties since 1987, when poaching-related fines were raised.
''[From 1986-88], we had a decrease of over 2,000 violations a year, which ended up being about a 20 percent decrease in the number of violations,'' Palmer said. ''What we're actually hoping for, if this legislation is enacted, it will serve as a significant enough deterrent that we would see an even larger decrease.''
Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said the lack of meaningful penalties has made poaching a revolving door, with much of the damage being done by repeat offenders. Perhaps the most notorious is Richard Stoy, a Blair County man who was convicted of 50 Game Code violations over 11 years, including 40 for killing trophy bucks.
''He never stopped -- until he got locked up for other [criminal] offenses,'' Palmer said.
Supporters of Staback's bill say the measure would not only curtail poaching committed by residents but also make Pennsylvania less attractive to wildlife abusers from neighboring states where existing penalties are much more severe.
For example, Palmer said someone who kills a black bear out of season in West Virginia is subject to 30 days in jail and a $5,000 fine, while a person who commits the same crime in Pennsylvania would receive no jail time and a fine from $500-$1,500.
''Those guys know they can run up over the border, and if they get caught they can pay a penalty and go home,'' Palmer said.
Officials say Pennsylvania's relatively low penalties also make the state attractive to commercial poachers who collect things such as deer antler velvet, black bear gall bladders and eagle feathers for sale on the black market.
''We have peopleâ€¦coming into Pennsylvania, poaching animals for the black market, knowing if they get caught they will pay a fine, and the fine is part of the cost of doing business,'' Staback said. ''They're liable to come back 10 or 20 times before they get caught again, and even if they do get caught again, all you're going to whack them with is a minor misdemeanor. The idea is to put the fear of God into these kind of people.''
So far, the only group to express serious reservations about Staback's bill is the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania.
During a Feb. 7 Game and Fisheries Committee hearing about the bill, Unified consultant James Slinsky said the 28-page bill is too complicated for many people to understand. Slinsky said the bill should be amended to focus penalties on commercial poaching while offering protection for those who might kill wildlife in self defense or to protect property. He also expressed concern about a portion of the bill that would allow the seizure of property used in offenses not related to poaching.
Staback said he is sensitive to Unified's concerns and plans to meet with representatives from numerous organizations in the coming weeks to evaluate the bill and craft any necessary amendments.
If all goes well, Staback said, he hopes to move the bill out of his committee in late April, clearing the way for a vote by the full House.
HIGHER PENALTIES FOR POACHING?
House Bill 2205, introduced last month by state Rep. Edward G. Staback, chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, would dramatically increase criminal penalties for many wildlife violations. The following chart highlights several changes included in the bill:
USING A SPOTLIGHT TO KILL A DEER AT NIGHT
Existing penalty: 2nd degree summary offense, $200-$300 fine.
Proposed penalty: 3rd degree misdemeanor, $1,500-$3,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
USING A SPOTLIGHT TO KILL THREE OR MORE DEER AT NIGHT
(in one episode or over a 10-year period)
Existing penalty: 2nd degree summary offense, $900-$2,400 fine.
Proposed penalty: 3rd degree felony, $10,000-$15,000 fine, plus 12-36 months in jail.
KILLING A BEAR OUT OF SEASON
Existing penalty: 1st degree summary offense, $500-$1,500 fine.
Proposed penalty: 3rd degree misdemeanor, $1,500-$3,000 fine, plus up to six months in jail.
ILLEGALLY KILLING THREE OR MORE BEARS
(over a 10-year period)
Existing penalty: 1st degree summary offense, $1,500-$4,500 fine
Proposed penalty: 3rd degree felony, $10,000-$15,000 fine, plus 12-36 months in jail
Source: House Bill 2205 email@example.com