Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing more stringent penalties and longer license revocation periods for poaching in Minnesota in response to recent egregious violations.
Dayton said Friday he wants to implement a felony-level penalty for poaching and revoke game-and-fishing licenses for 10 years, an increase from the maximum five-year revocation and gross-misdemeanor penalties now in place.
The proposed sanctions would apply to those who illegally take a restitution value of $2,000, or what the law defines as a gross over-limit amount.
The current threshold for gross over-limit is four or more deer, two or more trophy deer, 40 or more ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse or salmon, and 67 or more walleye or northern pike.
Legislators approached the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) earlier this year to draft a bill, said Ken Soring, the agency’s enforcement division director. The bill is designed to hold those who intentionally violate the state’s poaching laws accountable, he said.
“There is support … to have a more serious consequence [for] violators who go out and shoot half a dozen deer or take hundreds and hundreds of fish,” Soring said.
He said even though lawmakers support the 10-year suspension, there is some debate over whether to move forward with the felony-level penalty or keep it at a gross misdemeanor.
Though reports of poaching in the state spike occasionally, only a few high-profile cases are reported each year, Soring said.
Four men were charged earlier this year for their roles in widespread illegal killing of trophy deer and other big game in western Minnesota. Officials confiscated 28 sets of deer antlers, four sets of elk antlers, a set of mule deer antlers and a fully intact piebald deer in the freezer from the home of one of the men.
Craig Engwall, executive director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said Minnesota hunters support the legislation.
“If you’re a true hunter, you are ethical, you follow the law, you conduct yourself in accordance with the law,” Engwall said. “This should not affect a hunter.”
Engwall testified in favor of the bill last week and said the bill ensures that accidental violations, like miscounting, wouldn’t produce the same consequences as excessive, intentional ones.
Soring called the governor’s proposal a “strong statement.”
“We want people to go out and enjoy hunting and recreation,” he said. “But for those that go out and steal resources from the rest of Minnesotans, they should be treated with the appropriate consequences.”