Governor Signs Bill Increasing Penalties for Poaching
Gov. Janet Napolitano on May 2 signed House Bill 2129, a measure that increases the penalties for the illegal taking of wildlife. It will go into effect 90 days after the last day of the Arizona legislative session, probably in mid- to late-August.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weiers (R-Glendale), gives the Arizona Game and Fish Commission the authority to permanently revoke, or suspend for a period of five years or more, a person's hunting privileges for various offenses. These include unlawfully taking trophy or endangered species, taking three times the legally established limit or committing repeat violations. The bill also creates a civil assessment and revocation system based on the number of convictions an individual has for unlawfully taking or wounding wildlife.
“Hunters statewide are in favor of this legislation,” says Tony Guiles, legislative liaison for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The vast majority of people respect our wildlife resources and obey the law, but a few egregious offenders don’t. This bill gives our wildlife officers more enforcement tools and provides stiffer penalties for individuals who illegally take wildlife, especially repeat offenders.”
As an example, Guiles points out the case of a Payson man who pleaded guilty last year to three charges of unlawfully taking wildlife after his license had already been revoked for a similar offense. “If this law had been in place then, we could have taken away this individual’s hunting privileges for the rest of his life. Then, if he were convicted again, he could have faced prison time and a significant fine,” says Guiles.
Many people don’t realize that wildlife is considered a state asset, owned by the people of Arizona. “When poachers illegally take an animal, they are stealing from all of us,” says Guiles.
Another provision in the bill would ban the feeding of most wildlife in Maricopa and Pima counties. Attached as an amendment by Sen. Toni Hellon (R-Tucson), it makes feeding of most wild animals in those two counties a petty offense punishable by a $300 fine.
Wildlife feeding is a significant factor in increased human-wildlife conflicts in outlying urban areas.
“Many people think that feeding wildlife is a nice thing to do because it attracts rabbits or deer to spend time around their homes,” says Arizona Game and Fish Department Urban and Watchable Wildlife Project Manager Joe Yarchin. “But what happens is that those animals attract larger, predatory animals, such as coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions that can potentially eat pets and even become aggressive toward people.”
Problems associated with wildlife feeding include coyote attacks on eight child victims in areas of Maricopa County, two recent Phoenix-area incidents where javelina bit humans who were hand-feeding them, and several human-mountain lion encounters in 2004 in Sabino Canyon and near an elementary school in the Tucson area.
The ban will create another way for Game and Fish to help the public deal with repeated problems from wildlife feeding, in addition to its current wildlife information and education efforts, such as community meetings and the section of its Web site at azgfd.gov/urbanwildlife.
The measure does not apply to feeding birds and tree squirrels, and it does not affect people engaged in legal hunting or fishing or those engaged in normal agriculture and livestock operations.