According to recent figures from state wildlife officials, poaching incidents in Utah have increased by more than 30 percent over the past two years. However, officials say these numbers may not be representative of what is actually happening and may still increase in the coming days.
Poaching: The Many Factors of an Often Unsolved Crime
Given recent news about a protected gray wolf shot by a hunter who allegedly claims he thought it was a coyote, the issue of poaching and shooting protected animals in general is definitely in the public eye.
According to an Associated Press article, authorities have reported that more than 1,287 animals were killed illegally in 2014, however those numbers may increase as patrolling wildlife officers find more animals. In 2013, the numbers were 958.
Because the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources relies on their officers finding the animals or getting tips on someone poaching wildlife, they estimate that the numbers are much higher if poachers are able to dispose of the body and keep the incident to themselves.
Of the poaching incidents in Utah, the largest numbers of animals are deer, who are sought for their antlers. Box Elder County wildlife officer Mike Kinghorn said the bodies are often found without their heads. Other animals on the 2014 list include elk, moose, buffalo, bears, eagles, a desert tortoise, and even a pelican.
Poaching Penalties in Utah
Poaching occurs under three main circumstances: if the animal is killed out of season, if the hunter doesn’t have a license, or the hunter takes more animals than the state allows.
Per Utah Criminal Code 23-20-4, poaching is considered “wanton destruction of protected wildlife” and ranges from a class B misdemeanor up to a third degree felony. This is determined by the value of the animal as valuated by that particular section (and whether or not the animal is considered a “trophy animal” such as a deer, in which case it is a felony).
In addition to fines and potential jail time imposed as a result of the charge, restitution is generally imposed on the offender based on a list of animals and subsequent restitution charges as found in Utah Criminal Code 23-20-4.5. For example, as a trophy animal, poaching deer would be considered a felony and have an additional minimum of $8,000 in restitution.
Poaching is a serious crime just to have a trophy on your wall. If you or someone you know has been accused of poaching, make sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests.