Poach & Pay: Probing the Mind of the Wildlife Poacher

Poach & Pay: Probing the Mind of the Wildlife Poacher

One of the greatest threats to regulated sport hunting of wildlife is illegal take (poaching) by criminals. Unlawful acts resulting in the illegal take of wildlife can cause problems with monitoring and modeling populations of game species, jeopardize species that are sensitive to over-harvest, and in some cases, endangers the public due to unsafe practices. Of equal concern is that the public largely equates the perpetrators of often highly publicized poaching cases as “hunters” rather than criminals or poachers. At the recent annual meeting of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, the Boone and Crockett Club, working with Wildlife Management Institute, announced its plans to lead a long-term Poach & Pay anti-poaching program. The intent is to work with state wildlife agencies, state legislators, and members of the state judiciaries to improve the detection, conviction, and punishment of poachers.

Poach and Pay Logo

“Poaching goes against all that we hold sacred as law-abiding sportsmen and women and undermines the entire foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. However, the media often uses the terms hunting and poaching interchangeably, dragging all hunters down with the crimes of poachers,” noted Boone and Crockett Club president, Timothy C. Brady. “In addition, with little consistency among states in terms of fines and restitution, poachers often get away with little penalty. This emboldens them and other poachers to steal our public trust resources – and potentially the future of hunting.”

In 2016, the initial survey that began the Poach & Pay program found that 42 states currently have restitution programs; however, there is little apparent standardization of restitution costs. It also found that, while state conservation officers believed that poaching penalties accurately reflect the crime and current values of illegally taken animals, the judicial system often was the primary obstacle in convicting and punishing poachers. In fact, wildlife cases are disproportionately dismissed, and penalties are often applied inconsistently. This suggests that there is a lack of understanding of wildlife laws and the perception that poaching is a victimless crime.

The Poach & Pay program will include detailed research into the detection rates of poaching, the motivations of poachers, and the barriers to successful prosecution. It will also include an extensive public outreach campaign to actively engage the sportsmen’s community against poaching, and the development of template legislation that could be carried in state houses to help state agencies fight wildlife crime.

The next phase of the Poach & Pay research will be conducted by Dr. Kristie Blevins, a criminologist with Eastern Kentucky University, and Dr. Jonathan Gassett with the Wildlife Management Institute. As a criminologist (Blevins) and a former director of a state wildlife agency (Gassett), they are uniquely positioned to lead the Poach & Pay research. Their investigation will evaluate the detection rate and conservation impacts of wildlife crime, describe the motivational factors and potential deterrents that influence poachers, assess the barriers to prosecuting wildlife crime, and provide solutions to improving prosecution and conviction rates.

“The Poach & Pay research will be the largest, most extensive study on poaching that has ever been done in North America,” commented Gassett. “The first component of the research will focus on trying to get a handle on the ‘dark figure’ of wildlife crime – the amount of poaching that occurs that goes undetected. We have previously reviewed statewide wildlife crime citation and court data in Kentucky from 2006 to 2017 to evaluate the real cost of illegal take violations and restitution and fines in the state. Previous studies on deer poaching have estimated that the detection rate is only around 2%. This suggests that 98% of wildlife crimes may go undetected, and the real cost of those undetected crimes to Kentucky may approach $43 million annually!”

The research conducted by Gassett and Blevins will be the first of its kind to use a modern statistical, scientific, and sociological methodology to describe the complex issue of poaching and other wildlife crimes in North America. More importantly, the researchers will work with the Boone and Crockett Club to define, then reduce or inhibit motivations for committing those crimes. They also plan to work with state legislatures, prosecutors, judges, and fish and wildlife agencies to reduce the barriers to the prosecution and conviction of poachers, as well as increase the penalties for poaching in order to deter the crime. Finally, the Poach & Pay outreach campaign will arm U.S. sportsmen and women with real poaching data that clearly separates poaching from hunting.

The Poach & Pay program received initial financial support through the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund. “As responsible sportsmen and women, we must collectively do all we can to prevent wildlife crime and preserve the integrity of hunting,” said Bob Ziehmer, Senior Director of Conservation at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. “We thank our customers who, by rounding up purchases in our stores and online in support of the Outdoor Fund, are directly contributing to the fight against poachers through the Boone and Crockett Club’s Poach & Pay project.”

The Boone & Crockett Club also announced that it is actively seeking additional sponsorship from the outdoor industry and other organizations to help fund Poach & Pay research and outreach in the coming years.

December 15, 2020