Those thinking about killing an elk or a black bear in Missouri ought to check their bank balance first. If they get caught, they face a fine of $10,000 to $15,000 under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Mike Parson.
The law, sponsored by state Sen. Matt Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, and state Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, will take effect Aug. 28. It raises a host of fines for those convicted of illegally taking Missouri game species and other native wildlife, according to a news release from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The fines also include $1,000 to $5,000 for each whitetail buck and $500 to $1,000 for each wild turkey or paddlefish killed illegally.
Fines are considered restitution payments and are ordered by a judge in addition to fines and penalties for any other violations of the Missouri Wildlife Code.
Poaching has previously been defined as a misdemeanor and brought fines ranging from $1 to $1,000. They were prescribed using a matrix system, Matt Morris, Bernskoetter’s chief of staff, said.
“It just depended on the animal, but a lot of them were around $150 to $225” prior to the increase, Morris said.
Proceeds from poaching fines go to the state’s school moneys fund.
Conservation agents can issue tickets for code violations and submit them to county courts. County prosecutors determine how to proceed with violations, and judges determine fines, jail time or other penalties.
Conservation staff also assign points to people convicted of poaching, and they have recently increased penalty points.
Points range from zero to 16. Accumulating 16 or more points can result in a review of the hunter’s permit privileges.
The increase in penalties is in part because five Missouri elk have been illegally killed by poachers in the past few years. None of the cases has been solved. The conservation department has been working to establish a herd of wild elk near the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in south-central Missouri for several years and anticipates limited archery and firearms hunting seasons, perhaps as soon as 2020.
The news release said at least 547 wild turkeys, 58 paddlefish and 4,731 deer were poached in 2017 and 2018. Black bear poaching also is a growing concern as the number of bears in the state continues to rise.