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Poaching In Montana

Poaching a serious problem in Montana

Photo of a poaching case.

The results of a major poaching investigation, Operation Palmetto-Peach, in eastern Montana.

Poaching is the illegal killing of fish or wildlife. It can include illegal killing of fish or wildlife:

  • for commercial trade
  • for ego gratification
  • in closed areas, during closed times, or taking more than the law allows

FWP investigations of organized and professional poaching grew from about 20 in the 1990s to about 40 new cases a year today. In addition, poachers:

  • reduce recreational opportunities for law abiding anglers, hunters, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts
  • kill and waste Montana game animals, threatened and endangered species, and even nongame animals
  • target Montana's fish and wildlife resource for personal profit

Montana is a target for poachers

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:

  • extensive national and international markets fed by commercial poachers and the illegal trade in trophy antlers and mounts;
  • opportunities to collect thousands of dollars in the course of these crimes;
  • ease of networking and communicating with others seeking to illegally kill trophy-sized animals for a given amount of money; and
  • the ability to act on one's obsession to illegally kill the biggest and best trophy-sized animals. In such cases, money is not a motive, and the game carcass is often wasted by poachers who decapitate the animal for its head and antlers.

The impact of poaching on Montana and its citizens

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.

Poaching robs law abiding hunters of game and fish, businesses and taxpayers of revenues generated by hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing recreation, and it denies many other Montanans the ability to enjoy seeing healthy, mature fish and wildlife populations.

No one knows for sure, but officials suspect the poachers' kill is significant and that the problem is widespread. Poachers do not confine their killing only to game animals. Poachers also kill and waste threatened, endangered, and nongame wildlife. In just one recent Montana case, a poaching ring in operation from 1990-2002 killed more than a hundred of trophy-class game animals, including elk, deer, moose, bear, and antelope.