By Michael Polhamus
Teton County Rep. Keith Gingery introduced a bill Friday that would encourage judges to require poachers to pay for the value of the wildlife they take illegally from the state.
Known as restitution, such payments are separate from fines and are meant to reimburse the state for theft of its wildlife.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department currently suggests a rate of restitution for various animals, but judges are hesitant to require restitution on the authority of a state department, Gingery said.
“Judges are saying, ‘I don’t care what Game and Fish says,’ ” he said.
They may be more inclined to order restitution if the rates were written into law, Gingery said.
“Say you take an animal like a moose out of season,” he said. “You’re poaching. You get fined, get your gun taken away, you can’t hunt for two years. Well, there’s also restitution or trying to make the victim [the state\ whole.”
Judges commonly orders assailants to pay victims’ medical bills, for example, Gingery said.
“That’s an easy thing to figure out for other types of crimes,” he said, “but it’s more difficult for wildlife.”
Some courts don’t order restitution, Gingery said, because judges feel the Game and Fish department uses an “arbitrary formula” to determine the cost of an animal.
Gingery’s bill would place restitution rates under the aegis of state law and define them as constants rather than as variables resulting from a formula.
The bill as it is currently written would reduce restitution for poaching a grizzly from $25,000 to no more than $5,000 — the same value the bill assigns to most big game.
Gingery said this was in the interest of consistency and that legislators may increase the fine.
Even $5,000 is more than many judges currently order hunters to pay for unlawfully killing a grizzly, he said.
A judge sentenced Joe Conger, of Freedom, in December for illegally killing a grizzly but ordered no restitution. Though Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allan requested he order up to $25,000 in restitution for the crime, 9th Circuit Court Judge James Radda declined to add it to the sentence.
Gingery said his bill “would have made a big difference” in that outcome.
Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, whose House district includes Wilson, said she likely will support the bill. Teton County Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, voted to introduce the bill on Thursday.
In other legislative actions Friday, a bill concerning two large parcels of state school trust land in Grand Teton National Park passed through a Senate standing committee and awaits action by the entire chamber.
The bill would authorize Wyoming’s board of land commissioners to swap 1,280 acres owned by Wyoming within the park to the Department of the Interior in exchange for land owned by the federal government of equal value elsewhere in the state.
The Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources standing committee recommended that the Senate approve the bill.