DNR expects impact from increased poaching fines

LANSING — The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced that new state laws have taken effect with changes to the fines and restitution payments for poaching deer.

The laws are designed to further deter poaching of deer, especially those with trophy-sized racks.

Fines for any deer with or without anglers has a base restitution of $1,000. For any antlered deer, there’s an additional restitution of $1,000. If it’s a buck with eight to 10 points, $500 is added for each point. If the deer has 11 or more points, $750 is added for each point.

“Poachers who are targeting trophy deer will commit multiple violations to do so, including trespass, unlawful shining, hunting at night and not wearing hunter orange,” Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Division said in a statement. “These new laws give us more tools to go after these individuals, and are designed to reduce poaching of antlered deer in particular.”

The DNR noted that in the case of a 10-point buck, the new law would mean $7,000 restitution along with court fines and costs. The newly passed bill defines a point as being at least an inch long from its top to the nearest edge of the antler beam.

The new law also stipulates that poachers, who previously would lose hunting privileges for the remainder of the year they were convicted plus three years, would have an additional two years added to the ban on their first offense, which could mean up to six years, plus an additional seven years on second and subsequent convictions.

Molnar said it’s been 15 to 20 years since the restitution levels have changed.

“The illegal taking of animals is a statewide issue,” he said. “The legislature did this specifically to address those that are targeting the large bucks. The intent originally, for those people targeting trophy-sized animals, and illegally taking them. This would help as a deterrent by the increased fines for the larger animals. But remember, any sized buck also went up by $1,000.”

The obvious intent of the bill is to decrease the amount of poaching that takes place.

Molnar said the DNR has a new school of conservation officers in the department’s academy.

“We have 30 new officers in there right now to help augment the 172 sworn officers that we have right now,” Molnar said. “That’s a big boost for our numbers. The governor, in his budget, has recommended another appropriation to let us run another school for another 25. We’re hoping that will pass.”

With 202 officers, “that’s for 83 counties across the state,” Molnar said. “We rely on our citizens and our sportsmen and women to help be our eyes and ears. We have a 24-hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year report all poaching hotline number that citizens can call to give us information. That helps us to go after people that are violating and breaking the law.”

Lieutenant David Shaw of the DNR’s Cadillac district, a law supervisor covering northern Michigan, said poaching remains a problem, not just in his current area, but across the state.

“You’re always going to have a small segment of the population that is going to disobey the law and take deer,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if it’s any more prevalent here up here than it was in the southern part of the state where I worked before, or not. It is not uncommon for officers to take citizen complaints to investigate shining and shooting at night. We tend to see a majority of our illegal activity on deer actually during season during legal hunting hours. It tends to be people shooting deer without a license and trying to get a license after the fact or shooting over the illegal limit of deer they are allowed.”

Shaw expects the increase of fines to be an effective deterrent.

“If people are aware of the penalty, then it is a deterrent,” he said. “They have to be aware of the penalty. They have to feel there’s a good chance they’ll be caught. If those two things come into place, then it think it will be an excellent deterrent. These fines are really fairly severe when it comes to the restitution part of it, which was changed to the point now that any legal antlered buck, as long as it’s under seven points, has basically been doubled in the restitution to $2,000 to the state. Even $1,000 was severe.”

Shaw acknowledged that the presence of conservation officer also serves as a key deterrent to potential poachers.

“Currently, I’ve got four or five vacancies in this district alone,” he said. “Currently, we are understaffed. We’ve been doing strategic planning for our division. One of the things I hear (from other groups) is that they would like more officers out there and they seriously believe, and it could be shown, that’s the more (officers out there) the more deterrent factor you have.”

The new laws also cover recreational trespass by increasing the civil damage award that a landowner may recover.