By Howard Meyerson
Grand Rapids, Mich. — Two Michigan senators want to send a tough message to poachers and wild animal traffickers in Michigan. They recently introduced legislation calling for tougher penalties and higher restitution paid to the state when a person is convicted of illegally killing, buying, selling, or possessing game or protected wildlife species.
“We looked at what we did with trophy buck legislation (in 2013) which raised fines to discourage poaching and found it was successful,” said state Sen. Phil Pavalov, R-St. Clair Township. “We want to send a message that we are serious about protecting wildlife.”
Pavalov’s bill, SB 244, calls for the following fines for each illegal animal:
- Elk: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered elk;
- Moose: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered moose;
- Bears: $3,500;
- Eagles: $1,500;
- Waterfowl: $500;
- Hawks: $1,500;
- Wild turkeys: $1,000;
- Owls: $1,000
SB 244 is tie-barred to SB 245 and SB 246, introduced by state Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida. Zorn’s legislation establishes penalties for those convicted of the same crimes. Someone convicted of illegally killing, buying, selling, or possessing moose or elk would lose his or her hunting license for 15 years on the first offense, a lifetime on the second offense.
A conviction for bear or deer would mean losing a hunting license for five years on the first offense, 10 years on the second offense. Only 3 years is specified under current law.
“This is a matter of protecting the natural resources of the state,” Zorn said. “We are trying to protect the animals so they are used for the right reason.”
The three-bill package was developed with input from the Michigan DNR, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and other sportsmen’s groups, according Pavalov, who said “This was driven by hunting groups.”
Pavalov pointed to the success of his trophy deer anti-poaching legislation, which was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013 and took effect in 2014. It resulted in a number of large fines being issued to poachers.
In January, for instance, a Riley Township poacher, Scott Malinowski, was ordered by the court to pay $15,510 in restitution to the state for the 18-point buck he killed illegally last November. It was his third buck that season. The prior law called for a flat $1,000 in restitution to the state.
Pavalov’s anti-poaching law, Public Act 175 of 2013, requires a base restitution fee of $1,000 for any deer taken illegally with or without antlers; an additional $1,000 for any antlered deer; plus $500 per point for deer with eight to 10 antler point and $750 per point if it has 11 or more points.
“This is not just about shining with a spotlight in October,” Pavalov said. “When people read about it they understand that we are serious about protecting those animals.”
The anti-poaching package introduced in March was referred to the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, where Zorn is vice chair. The committee took testimony on April 22 from assorted conservation and sporting groups and the DNR.
“Everyone was in support,” Zorn said. “We won’t vote on it (in committee) for another three weeks, but I am sure it will pass. Then it goes to the (full Senate) and over to the House. It will probably be after summer that we are finished with it. I’d be surprised if it was much quicker.”