By LACEE SHEPARD Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — LANSING — A bear-poaching incident in Manistee County shed light on a continuing problem in Michigan.
“A poacher is nothing more than a criminal. If someone goes into a department store and steals a blender, that would be the same thing as someone who goes into the wild and steals a deer,” said Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division.
“They’re a criminal. They’re not ethical, licensed hunters. They’re taking away from the public.”
Hunting is used in part to manage resources, as well as a recreational sport and management tool for wildlife biologists to maintain healthy animal populations, Molnar said.
During the fall hunting season, when there are more than 600,000 hunters in the woods, there is more opportunity for poaching, including the recent illegal shooting of a black bear in Manistee County’s Cleon Township.
The case attracted public and press attention in part because bears are a big game species, said Lt. David Shaw, a DNR district law supervisor based in Cadillac.
The fact that the bear was a sow that had been photographed with three cubs raises more concern about the shooting, he said.
As winter comes, cubs typically follow the mother into a good, safe den, Shaw said, and now the cubs will be on their own.
Plants also can be illegally taken. Evergreen boughs are popular this time of year for wreaths and garlands, and there is a problem with people illegally gathering them, Molnar said.
“People seem to think that they are stealing from the DNR but ... the resources of this state belong to the people of the state of Michigan — it’s everybody’s resource,” said Molnar.
Poachers face strict penalties if caught. Illegally killing a deer carries a minimum $200 fine, plus court costs and mandatory $1,000 restitution for the animal, said Molnar. On top of the fines, poachers lose hunting privileges for the year they are caught and for the next three years.
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs supports a bill sponsored by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, that would make those laws even stricter.
The bill passed the Legislature and awaits Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature. If approved, it would increase the amount poachers must pay the state in restitution for illegally taking large antlered deer.
In addition, it would extend the current three-year hunting ban to five years for a first-time violators. Repeat offenders couldn’t get a hunting license for 10 years.
“We were very focused on this bill because we thought the penalty was too low,” said MUCC Executive Director Erin McDonough. “We have a license system in place for a reason to guarantee we have viable wildlife population for the future. Anybody doing illegal activities needs to be prosecuted.”
Lacee Shepard writes for Michigan State University’s Capital News Service.