By April Hudson
Poaching is poaching, regardless of the animal.
Whether it be a grizzly bear or a fish, poachers who come through Stony Plain court can expect to leave with a hefty fine.
A year and a half ago, in December 2012, three hunters were sentenced in Stony Plain provincial court for killing a grizzly bear. They were handed a total of $30,500 in fines and hunting suspensions from three to six years.
A month earlier, an Edmonton couple were ordered by Stony Plain provincial court to pay a combined $100,000 in fines after poaching a deer within city limits.
In December 2013, an Edmonton man was jailed for five months and ordered to pay $10,000 after killing a sow grizzly bear and her cub.
In 2013, human-related grizzly bear deaths in Alberta reached a 10-year high.
Grizzlies are protected animals in Alberta and fines can run up to $100,000 for poachers. Fish and Wildlife says it’s too early to predict 2014 numbers, but of the 31 grizzly mortalities last year 26 were from humans. That includes 11 illegally killed and four mistaken for black bears.
Those numbers are indicative of a larger problem, however. In the tri-area — a relatively bear-free area where grizzlies aren’t found — Quentin Isley, the officer in charge of the Spruce Grove and Stony Plain fish and wildlife office, says his officers run up 300 or more files every year on hunting and fishing violations.
In fact, the week before Victoria Day, he says his officers handed out 25 enforcement actions in one day during a patrol around Wabamun Lake. That’s not the everyday average for them, he says, but it does happen frequently.
“We have significant levels of poaching in our area — lots of it,” he said. “We can go out and find a violation just about any day of the week.”
Infractions under the Wildlife and Fisheries acts are all too common despite hefty fines. Although grizzlies are on the high end of the scale where fines are concerned, even shooting a mule deer out of season or keeping a fish you shouldn’t can cost you thousands of dollars.
“We do a lot of fisheries work here, so over time the courts have kind of made this general practice: If you go to court in Stony Plain for illegally keeping fish, they’ll fine you. It starts at $1,000 per fish and then if there are extra circumstances it goes up from there,” Isley said.
Fines for big game aren’t set in stone, though. Isley says a poached deer can cost you anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000.
“From last fall … I think the biggest fine we got was $14,000 for two mule deer shot with a rifle in a bow and arrow zone,” he said.
The problem likely stems from ignorance as well as flagrant disregard for the rules. Some people Isley’s officers deal with run into people who don’t bother to look up hunting and fishing regulations, while others actively try to hide what they’re doing.
To that end, Fish and Wildlife uses every method of investigation available to them — even after a carcass has been dumped and the poacher has left the scene. They do DNA testing and use computer forensics as well.
According to Alberta’s Report-A-Poacher program, less than 10 per cent of poaching cases are detected and poaching in Alberta could be around 3,000 animals each year, based on numbers from 2011.
That program is run in conjunction with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General. If you have any information about poaching activities in the tri-area, you can call the local Fish and Wildlife office at 780-960-8190 or call the 24-hour toll-free Report-A-Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.