Poaching is a problem in Missouri.
Already this year, three high-profile poaching incidents have taken place, the Springfield News-Leader recently reported. On Feb. 8, two adult elk were shot and left to rot in Shannon County. In January, a baby elk was shot. Its meat was removed.
“Under current Missouri law, the maximum fine for poaching can actually be smaller than the cost of buying a proper hunting or fishing license,” Sen. Mike Bernskoetter told the paper. “This has prompted some poachers to simply take their chances rather than pay for a permit.”
Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, has introduced a bill that would change this. It would allow judges to order restitution fees ranging from $375-$5,000 in poaching convictions. Two identical bills have been filed in the House.
The restitution fees would depend on whether the poached animal is a deer, elk, black bear, turkey or paddlefish. Deer poaching, perhaps the most common, would bring fines of $1,000-$2,000.
The restitution for poaching a black bear or elk would be at least $2,500 and no more than $5,000, Bernskoetter’s bill says.
The lowest amount is a range from $375-$750, set for each wild turkey poached.
The restitution money would be added to the state’s education fund.
Don’t be mistaken: Earmarking the money for education won’t solve our education funding problems. In fact, we don’t expect it will make a dent in the demand for education funding.
But we believe it will make people think twice about poaching if they know they could face far stiffer penalties.
A similar bill failed during last year’s session. But we hope the high-profile poaching incidents at least serve to shine a light on the problem, which could give the bills a better chance this year.
The News-Leader said the Conservation Federation of Missouri supports Bernskoetter’s bill, saying it would bring Missouri in line with other states by allowing judges to assess restitution fees.
We urge lawmakers to pass Bernskoetter’s bill, which would give would-be poachers reason to rethink their actions.