There is no room for poachers in Montana, one of the few states in the country where convicted poachers now face jail time and hefty fines.
That's part of the "Enough is Enough" anti-poaching message Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and several private groups want to send this fall as the state continues to battle professional poachers who kill Montana wildlife for profit.
State wildlife officials, with the help and support of the Montana Wildlife Federation, the Montana Bowhunters' Association, and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, will launch a statewide campaign this month to draw attention to the problem and seek the help of Montanans to nab poachers.
Consider the recent conviction of a commercial poacher near Gardiner who invited 30 associates, friends, relatives or employees from five states, including Montana, to hunt illegally on his ranch near the border of Yellowstone National Park in southwestern Montana.
Between 1999 and 2004 John McDonald collected an estimated $90,000 for hunting illegally on his land and providing access to nearby national forests. McDonald was convicted in federal court in January on two felony counts of violating federal laws that regulate the interstate sale, purchase, and transportation of wildlife. He He He was sentenced to a year in prison, fined $25,000, ordered to pay an additional $25,000 in restitution, and lost his hunting privileges for life in Montana and 22 other states. Several of his clients who poached record-class bull elk were also convicted and fined. A caller to Montana's poaching hotline, 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668) exposed the poachers and led to the arrests.
"We simply cannot win the battle against professional poachers without the eyes and ears of Montanans, especially the state's law abiding hunters and anglers," said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. "We need Montana citizens to say, 'enough is enough,' and we're urging them to report these serious and costly crimes."
Montana is attractive to active and would-be poachers mostly because of the state's large tracts of public and agricultural lands, 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.
"Our investigations of organized and professional poaching operations has gone from about 20 in the 1990s to about 40 new cases every year," said Jim Kropp, FWP's chief of enforcement. "Poachers are targeting Montana's trophy wildlife for commercial profit. Montana's wide-open country is inviting to poachers who think they'll never get caught. They view Montana as a place where they can take the heads off of hundreds of deer and elk, leave the carcasses to rot like trash and just walk away. We need the eyes and ears of everyone in Montana to stop poachers from wasting and degrading Montana's fish and wildlife resources."
Kropp said there are several reasons for the increase in organized poaching in Montana, including:
· 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
· the ability to act on one's obsession to illegally kill the biggest and best trophy-sized animals
"We've increased our efforts to battle poachers, but we still need the help of the Montana public." Kropp stressed. "Many times calls to 1-800-TIP-MONT for what initially appeared to be a minor infraction, evolved into cases involving multiple poachers spanning several years and across several states."
For more information, visit FWP's Poaching web page.