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Editorial board: It’s time to toughen penalties for wildlife crimes

Editorial board: It’s time to toughen penalties for wildlife crimes

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For too many poachers, the decision they make to break the law is an economic one. The value of poaching treasured mounts for sale is worth more than fines they’ll will face if they get caught.

That’s not right. It’s time to make poachers more likely to face punishment other than a blow to their wallets.

Wyoming’s game wardens want additional wildlife violations to warrant felonies, and we support their request to lawmakers. The wardens want to make any violation worth over $1,000 a felony. That seems a fair request in Wyoming, a state with a huge outdoors recreation sector, second only to the energy importance in dollar value, and home to unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities that define our way of life.

It seems clear the state laws in place aren’t strong enough. There are already federal laws for cross-border poaching, but such laws don’t help stop in-state poaching or give state wardens the enforcement tools they need. In past decades, wardens could expect poachers were killing animals for the poacher’s own use. But that’s less likely today. More often, poachers are gathering trophy mounts to sell on the black market, and others are offering unlicensed guiding and outfitting services.

We respect a request from the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, who want to make sure the law is crafted narrowly to avoid capturing in its net state citizens guilty of taking out-of-state friends and family on Wyoming hunting or fishing adventures. We’re confident it’s possible to write a law to exclude such harmless and worthy activities. Those are not the lawbreakers wardens seek.

Strengthening these penalties would provide the wardens with tools they’ll use. Recall the felony punishment for serial poaching instituted by lawmakers in 2011. In 2012, Colton Lapp of Worland was charged with the crime after he killed four bucks and shot at another. This came after he was twice caught and convicted of poaching. Lapp later pled guilty to three poaching charges and faced boot camp and probation. He also lost his hunting and fishing privileges in Wyoming and 37 other states.

Lawmakers want to consider legislation instituting the wardens’ recent request. We’re glad to see they are. It’s time to replace the patchwork quilt of wildlife violation penalties.

Let’s make wildlife laws clear, harsh and worth avoiding.

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