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FL: Poachers pay the price for stealing

December 29, 2009

Poachers pay the price for stealing

Florida has deer hunting seasons that last almost five months and liberal bag limits compared to some other states, but for some people that's just not enough. They want more and are willing to break the law to get it.

Hunting rules are in place to protect the resource so it will be available for all who want to hunt - lawfully. The rules are not arbitrary but, in fact, are based in science and are among the tools our biologists use to manage deer herds to be healthy and ample.

What's really troubling is those who break the law either don't know or don't care they are stealing from law-abiding people. And these few bad apples give all hunters a bad name.

Take for example the seven young people Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers arrested recently. The oldest one was 23; the youngest 17. They were arrested for a variety of criminal charges related to unlawful hunting, including taking deer at night with gun and light, felony trespass, hunting from a right-of-way, and using the wrong kind of fire arm.

This particular situation happened in Central Florida, but it happens everywhere in the state and can have a devastating effect on our deer populations. In this case, the seven people - five men and two women - racked up a total of 38 counts of illegal hunting activity in two counties. Before they recommended charges against the seven, FWC officers spent weeks investigating, interviewing and gathering evidence before putting together an investigative packet and presenting it to the state attorney's office.

In this instance, the state attorney's office agreed the officers put together an excellent case with supporting evidence and agreed to prosecute.

Illegal hunting, better described as poaching, is cheating the system. FWC officers have dedicated their lives to protecting our natural resources and spend countless hours trying to bring these cheaters to justice. One of their key tools is the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline. This is a special, toll-free phone number that citizens can call to report hunting and other activity they think may be illegal. Callers don't have to give their names, and they can call 24-hours a day. Jot this number down and keep it handy so you can help us protect our resources from those who choose not to obey the law: 1-888-404-3922.

The information ordinary citizens like you provide very often leads our officers to the bad guys - the ones breaking the hunting laws and stealing from those who choose to obey the laws. When these bad guys are arrested, the hotline caller is eligible for a reward. That's how officers found out about the young poachers in this recent case.

This case is not yet over, but already some of the defendants have pled guilty, and as part of their plea agreement, lost their hunting privileges for three years. They also must perform community service, were placed on probation for a couple of years, and paid fines and court costs exceeding $600.

Others pled not guilty and have opted for their day in court. A few others have not yet had their initial hearing.

One of the great things about living in the United States of America is that we enjoy the finest judicial process in the world. Anyone charged with a crime is entitled to his or her day in court - even accused poachers.

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