H. 4131: An Act further regulating the enforcement of illegal hunting practices
MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsors: Senator Michael Moore, Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Ann-Margaret Ferrante
Status: Reported favorably as amended by Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. Referred to House Committee on Ways and Means.
H. 4131 enacts long overdue reforms to protect our state’s wildlife, our citizens, and our economy while enhancing government efficiency. The bill increases penalties for poaching and enters the Commonwealth into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
Ask your legislators to help end poaching in Massachusetts
What is poaching?
Poaching — the illegal harming or killing of wildlife — is a serious problem across the country and right here in Massachusetts. Poaching includes killing endangered species, using illegal weapons, using illegal hunting methods such as baiting, killing animals outside of the legal hunting season, or hunting in a wildlife sanctuary.
Who are poachers?
Poachers are the foes of animal protection advocates, conservationists, and lawful hunters alike. They cheat the system and gain an unfair advantage over sportsmen. Poaching threatens the welfare and conservation of native species that are important to our ecosystem and our economy. Law enforcement officials report that poachers are rarely, if ever, breaking the law to put food on the table. In fact, those charged with poaching crimes frequently have expensive trucks and weapons.
Supporting law enforcement
Massachusetts has just 110 Environmental Police Officers to cover wildlife law enforcement for the entire Commonwealth. These officers are highly skilled and work tirelessly, but they cannot be everywhere at once. The key to getting poaching under control is to deter the crimes before they happen. Adequate penalties are imperative for deterring illegal hunting activity. Fines that amount to little more than a slap on the wrist are just the cost of doing business for poachers.
Elevated penalties for poaching crimes
This bill elevates Massachusetts’ penalties for illegal hunting to bring them in line with penalties in other states. The penalties will provide adequate deterrence for would-be poachers and bring to justice those who illegally exploit wildlife and cheat ethical hunters and other Commonwealth citizens. The bill elevates fines, jail time, and license suspensions for existing laws. It also creates heightened penalties for chronic poachers and those who kill animals for pure thrill, to give the Environmental Police an additional tool to target those who intentionally and repeatedly disregard the laws in place to protect wildlife.
The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact
Additionally, this legislation would bring Massachusetts into a nationwide law enforcement network known as the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Massachusetts is one of only 2 non-member states of the nationwide law enforcement network, along with Hawaii, though a bill to join the Compact has passed both chambers in the Hawaii legislature. As a non-member, Massachusetts does not benefit from the network that has been helping wildlife agencies increase compliance with wildlife laws for 25 years. Joining the compact would prevent wildlife violators who have lost their hunting, trapping, or fishing privileges in member states from coming to Massachusetts to circumvent their license revocations. It would give our wildlife agency access to a database of wildlife violators, allowing us to choose to enforce a reciprocal license suspension or revocation, if we have a similar law and penalty (i.e., if the wildlife violation they were convicted of warranted a license revocation in their home state, then that is also a license-revocable offense in Massachusetts).
When a poacher has their hunting, fishing, and/or trapping privileges legally suspended in a state that is a member of the Compact, the suspension may be recognized by all other compact member states. The violation is treated as if it happened in the violator’s home state for purposes of license suspension and due process. Suspension information is shared between states via an electronic database.
Protect tourism and local business
Illegal hunting, trapping, and fishing jeopardizes the livelihood of people and businesses that rely on a thriving ecosystem. When wildlife violators illegally fish in our lakes, rivers, and streams, taking fish out of season or over the legal limit, they exploit the Commonwealth’s natural resources and steal revenue from constituents who make a living off the water. These wildlife violators threaten the welfare and conservation of native species important to our ecosystems and economy and steal from lawful fishing businesses, recreational sportsmen, and wildlife watchers.