Poaching is the illegal killing of fish or wildlife. It can include illegal killing for commercial trade or ego gratification. In closed areas or during closed hunting seasons, it can mean taking more than the law allows.
Poachers are criminals who kill for the thrill of killing, to lash out at wildlife laws, and, increasingly, for profit. Poachers are not down-on-their-luck people trying to feed their families. They are from all walks of life and avocations, and include residents and nonresidents. They kill wildlife any way, time, and place they can. Poaching rings can be well organized and extremely profitable. Some poachers operate alone, while others operate as part of organized crime. All poachers kill and waste fish and wildlife with no regard for the rights of others.
Montana is known for its wide open spaces, low population, and abundant fish and wildlife. While "opportunistic" violations remain a concern among game wardens, the larger and growing threat to wildlife is organized, pre-planned illegal activity. The increase in organized poaching is fueled by:
In many cases money is not a motive, and the game carcass is often wasted by poachers who decapitate the animal for its head and antlers.
Investigations of organized and professional poaching grew from about 20 in the 1990s to about 40 new cases a year today. In addition, poachers affect all Montanans by:
Poaching robs law-abiding hunters of game and fish, businesses and taxpayers of revenues generated by hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing recreational pursuits, and it denies many other Montanans the ability to enjoy seeing healthy, mature fish and wildlife populations.
Montana Wardens write on average 4,500 citations yearly. Hundreds of hunting and angling violations occur annually, but less than half constitute what could be considered "poaching." Most violations are procedural ones, such as failure to leave evidence of sex and species naturally attached to an animal, or failing to attach the appropriate tag to a carcass.
In spite of this, however, poaching—that is, the willful and intentional taking of wildlife illegally—is on the rise. This could be due to many factors, not the least of which is the abundance of animals, combined with the fact that Montana has become a hunter's destination, with world-renown hunting and angling opportunities.
Once someone is convicted of a violation, a record is made in a violation database. However, it can take weeks or even months for the violation to become entered into the Law Enforcement database, depending on the jurisdiction and whether someone is paying fines and/or restitution over time. Therefore, the figures shown for the most recent years in the following table represent only a portion of the total citations written, or convictions for various wildlife violations.
|Big Game Animal||2000||2001||2002||2003||2004||2005||2006||2007||2008||2009||TOTAL|
|TOTAL—All "Hunting" Violations for the Same Time Period||935||935||1,018||1,044||1,001||978||1,039||1,040||919||404||9,313|
|1for citations entered in the violation database through June 2010|