By John Myers
Gov. Mark Dayton today announced a get-tough policy against poachers who illegally take game and fish in Minnesota, including more felonies with higher fines and longer license revocations.
The proposal comes just days after the state Department of Natural Resources announced it was investigating the illegal killing of two bull elk in Northwestern Minnesota.
Dayton cited the elk case and other high-profile poaching incidents in recent months as the push to his new plan.
The governor's proposal would establish a new felony-level penalty for poaching and revoke game and fish licenses and privileges for a period of up to 10 years. Current law only includes up to a gross misdemeanor penalty for poaching and license revocations of up to only five years.
"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 in a statement today. "They are shameful criminal acts, and they should be treated as serious offenses by Minnesota laws. I ask our state's sportsmen and sportswomen to join me in urging the Legislature to increase the penalties for these disgusting abuses."
An avid pheasant hunter and angler, Dayton said he hopes tougher penalties for the crimes will serve as a deterrent.
Specifically, Dayton wants to make it a felony when anyone is convicted of illegally taking game or fish valued at $2,000 or more. Under current values, that $2,000 limit would be reached with four or more deer; two or more trophy deer; five or more bear or turkeys; 40 or more ducks, geese, pheasant, grouse or salmon; 67 or more walleye or northern pike.
"Gross over-limit violations are not accidental," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "The reforms being championed by Gov. Dayton this year reflect the values of responsible Minnesota hunters and anglers. This proposal would enact strong and appropriate penalties for those who intentionally disregard the ethical and legal boundaries of hunting and fishing in Minnesota."
In January, the DNR seized 28 sets of antlers in a deer poaching investigation in Dawson, Minn. The antlers included 11 shoulder mounts, most of which were trophy class animals. Also seized were four sets of elk antlers and a set of mule deer antlers. Officers also discovered a fully intact piebald deer in a freezer. The deer was untagged and had been killed with a high-powered rifle. DNR officers also seized a freshly killed eight-point whitetail buck, which investigators determined had been killed with a high-powered rifle. Suspects in the poaching case were charged with gross misdemeanors for transporting illegally taken big game, use of an artificial light to take deer, hunting during prohibited times, trespassing, and failure to register deer.
Earlier this week, two bull elk were illegally shot and killed near Grygla. The elk herd in that area had been shrinking in recent years and was off-limits to hunting since 2012.
Anyone with information about the illegal shooting of the two bull elk, or any other wildlife violation, is urged to call the 24-hour, toll-free Turn In Poachers hotline (800) 652-9093 .