Missouri's Conservation Department wants Missourians to know the state is increasing the penalty for poaching.
Last week, Gov. Mike Parson signed the "Poaching Bill" (House Bill 260) into law, effective Aug. 28.
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, and was handled in the state Senate by Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, who had sponsored a similar bill.
The department noted the new law "significantly raises fines for those convicted of illegally taking Missouri game species and other native wildlife."
The new fine amounts established by the law include:
- $10,000-$15,000 for each elk or black bear killed illegally.
- $1,000-$5,000 for each whitetailed buck.
- $500-$1,000 for each wild turkey.
- $500-$1,000 for each paddlefish.
In its news release, the department noted the fines are considered "restitution payments" for poaching game animals and are ordered by a judge.
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Money collected from the fines goes to the state's school moneys fund.
The department also reminded Missourians the restitution payments are in addition to any other fines and penalties imposed for violating the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
And the department noted that, earlier this year, it and the Missouri Conservation Commission increased the penalty points given to individuals who are convicted of violating the Wildlife Code of Missouri for illegal activities, including poaching.
Supporters of the bill said Missouri's previous poaching fines were too low.
Part of the evidence used to support the need for the bill was the unsolved cases of five elk killed illegally in Missouri by poachers in the past few years.
According to MDC records, 547 wild turkeys, 58 paddlefish and 4,731 deer were illegally taken, or poached, in 2017 and 2018.
Black bear poaching incidents are a growing concern, as well.
MDC Protection Division Chief Randy Doman said in the news release: "In addition to doing what we can by increasing penalty points for Wildlife Code violations, Conservation agents also are working with county prosecutors and judges to help reduce incidents of poaching and other violations, by increasing penalties such as fines and jail time."
Doman also explained how penalties are determined.
"The state Legislature has the authority to establish penalty classifications related to poaching and other wildlife violations," he said. "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 (and) county prosecutors then determine how to proceed with the violations," he added.
"If the person is convicted of the violations by the court, the judge then determines fines, jail time, and/or other penalties."
He also noted any money collected from the fines "do not go to MDC."
Doman added, depending on the violation, MDC staff can then assign persons convicted of Code violations anywhere from zero to 16 points per violation.
"Once a person accumulates 16 points, MDC staff will review the circumstances surrounding the violations and may recommend that the Conservation Commission consider revoking or suspending the person's permit privileges for up to one year," he explained.
"If a person accumulates more than 16 points, the recommendation to the Commission may be for a suspension of more than one year."
The person's accumulated points for the past five years are considered in making recommendations to the Commission.
The department asks that anyone with information on poaching cases call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-1111.