Frustrated by fish and game poachers who get a “slap on the wrist,’’ for serious offenses, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed on Friday that some wildlife offenses be prosecuted as felonies.
“The recently reported instances of wanton and wasteful poaching in Minnesota should offend the sensibilities of all ethical and law-abiding hunters and anglers,’’ Dayton said at the annual Department of Natural Resources “roundtable,’’ or stakeholders meeting, in Brooklyn Center.
Dayton made a similar proposal last year to the Legislature, including revocation of hunting and fishing licenses for some offenses for up to 10 years, but the initiative was rebuffed.
Under the governor’s proposal, felony level offenses would apply to the unlawful take of animals with a restitution value of $2,000 or more. Examples would include the illegal taking of four or more deer, two or more trophy deer, five or more bears or turkeys, 40 or more ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse or salmon, and 67 or more walleyes or northern pike.
“I’m offended when I see these stories about a guy who slaughtered a lot of deer and got away with it,’’ Dayton said.
The governor was particularly incensed by reports in 2014 of a bust in west-central Minnesota by DNR conservation officers, during which 28 sets of deer antlers were seized. The officers spent four years investigating the case, including aerial surveillance of the suspect’s rural Dawson, Minn., home, before securing a court warrant to place a tracking device on the suspect’s vehicle.
A short while later, the suspect and a friend were stopped at night by DNR officers, who found a freshly killed buck whitetail in the back of his pickup. The case has yet to be tried.
Similarly, a poacher was convicted last year of illegally killing 13 deer in Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and the Sand Dunes State Forest. And in 2013, in northwest Minnesota, two rare bull elk were killed near Grygla in an area closed to hunting.
No arrests have been made.
Dennis Mackedanz, executive director of Turn In Poachers (TIP), a non-profit that for 35 years has worked alongside the DNR and other enforcement agencies to report wildlife offences, said officers this summer confiscated 676 sunfish and crappies from a group that fished on Cormorant Lake in Becker County.
Under current Minnesota law, that and similar serious poaching cases can only be prosecuted as gross misdemeanors, with license revocations of up to five years.