IV. Typical State Wildlife Crimes
As with virtually all criminal laws, each state has adopted its own statutes or ordinances related to wildlife crime. Part of the reason for the differences among state laws stems from the difference in wildlife resources. For example, some states have bear or elk hunting seasons, while others do not provide such seasons simply because the animal is not present (or is present in low numbers) in the state. While individual laws may vary somewhat from state to state, they are similar in many regards. In spite of the sometimes vast differences in the amounts and species of particular forms of wildlife across states, wildlife laws and hunting regulations are created to protect plant and animal populations and wildlife resources in each respective state.
Each state is responsible for identifying the game species that may be legally hunted and for adopting the restrictions that are imposed relating to when and how such game may be taken. Specifically, state gaming departments select specific dates when hunting may occur, determine what weapon(s) may be used, and place restrictions on the size and number of animals that may be taken by each hunter. In addition, limitations are imposed with regard to the times hunting may occur, the gender of the animals harvested, and the locations for hunting activity. Hunters are expected to follow the state’s guidelines, which includes the purchase of a hunting license. For most large game animals such as deer, elk, and moose, hunters are also required to tag each animal harvested, report the kill either in person or by phone to the appropriate regulatory agency, and complete and display all required forms or paperwork (see Johnston, Holland, Maharaj, & Campson, 2007).
Across all states, one of the most commonly reported and detected wildlife crimes is hunting or fishing without a valid license. This crime defrauds the state of valuable revenue that would be used to protect and improve wildlife resources. Another common state wildlife crime is hunting out of season or hunting animals for which there is no legal hunting season. These violations can have significant detrimental impact on a wide variety of wildlife populations. A third common state hunting crime is failure to tag hunting kills, which results in inaccurate counts for the state. The primary reason hunters do not tag or report their activity is so they may engage in harvesting more animals than are permitted. Unfortunately, taking more than the limit of game kills is another crime familiar to state fish and wildlife officials. Other common crimes include shooting from the road, hunting with an illegal weapon or firearm caliber, spotlighting to hunt, and trespassing to hunt or fish. Since only a small percentage of state wildlife crimes are treated as felonies, many individuals claim that they are not a serious problem, especially when compared to other types of crime. What they fail to realize is that even misdemeanor wildlife crimes may ultimately threaten fish and wildlife populations (Eliason, 2003, 2004).