From the Casper Star-Tribune
By The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 8:00 PM MST
CHEYENNE -- People who repeatedly poach trophy game animals in Wyoming could face felony charges under a bill the state Legislature will consider in the session starting next month.
The Wyoming Game Wardens Association is pushing the bill. It would establish that anyone convicted of poaching certain trophy game animals for the second time within a 10-year period could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The Interim Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee is sponsoring the bill.
Cara Eastwood, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Freudenthal, said Wednesday that the governor believes increasing the penalties for poaching would be good for the state. However, she said the governor has told the association that passing the bill would likely be difficult in the coming session.
Brian Nesvik, a game warden in Pinedale and president of the Game Warden's Association, said Wednesday he believes the bill has a good chance of success.
"It would make a great statement for the legislators and governor's commitment toward protecting wildlife, (and would) show a commitment on their part to ensure the long-term viability of a resource that's pretty darn unique," Nesvik said.
The bill would cover the following game animals: antlered deer, antlered elk, antlered moose, horned antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, grizzly bear and black bear.
Nesvik said it's important for Wyoming to make a statement that it takes crimes against wildlife seriously, especially given the influx of many transient workers into the state.
Some prosecutors say areas of Wyoming have seen a rise in the wanton killing of wildlife as a result of the ongoing energy boom drawing young men into the drilling fields from other states.
"There's a real issue because of all the oil and gas exploration," said Brett Johnson, Sweetwater County attorney, in an interview this summer. "They're out there. There's very few other people out there, and there's a lot of wildlife. They don't think anybody's going to catch them, and most of the time, nobody does catch them."
A Tennessee man was convicted this summer in Sweetwater County for shooting a doe antelope several times with a semiautomatic rifle and sentenced to serve 100 days in jail and pay $6,000 in fines and restitution. In another case, a gas field worker was fined $6,000 after pleading guilty to deliberately driving through a herd of antelope in Sweetwater County last year.
Bob Wharff of Evanston, executive director of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said he expects his group will be lobbying in favor of the bill.
"Most of the guys have kind of felt that after a second conviction like that it's probably time to start being a bit more aggressive with our punishment," Wharff said.
Wharff said his group draws a distinction between poachers and hunters. He said poachers commonly look for the largest animals and commonly kill them during closed seasons when they're relatively defenseless on their winter range. That deprives hunters of their chance to take trophy animals during established hunting seasons, he said.
"When somebody comes in and blatantly takes one on its winter range, when the animals are more vulnerable, it's more frustrating for those of us who have played the system, and played by the rules," Wharff said.
Rep. Pat Childers, a Cody Republican and co-chairman of the legislative committee that's sponsoring the bill, said the Game Warden's Association asked the committee to sponsor the bill. He said the committee agreed, partly because of outrage over poachers repeatedly killing bighorn sheep in the Big Horn Basin.
"I really think we need to do something about it," Childers said. "If they've been caught once before, and they've just decided they don't care, they're going to do it again, then we need to hit them a lot harder than we did in the past."
From the Casper Star-Tribune