During the Tuesday, April 11 meeting of the Lassen County Board of Supervisors, a resolution regarding punishment of poaching was brought into discussion by Lassen County Fish and Game Commission Chairman Don Armentrout.
Armentrout introduced the resolution as a response to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf plan in which the third objective is to retain a viable prey population for wolves, maintain a population for the recreation of people to see them and retain some for hunting.
The issue with the objective, as stated by Armentrout, is the department’s lack of knowledge regarding the predation rate of deer, elk or pronghorn from any predator.
Along with this predation issue, poaching has become fairly chronic in the Northern California area as well as the remainder of the state.
In an effort to lessen the frequency of poaching, the proposed resolution from the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission states, “We request that the Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife work together to increase the fine for poaching to a minimum, nondiscretionary fine of $1,200, loss of hunting license for five years, forfeiture of firearm or archery equipment used in the act of poaching and forfeiture of the vehicle used while poaching.”
If the resolution is approved, Armentrout said, “The loss of hunting license will be listed on an Interstate Wildlife Violation Compact. That means they won’t be able to buy a hunting license in the entire western United States.”
The commission decided to make the fine nondiscretionary due to issues of inconsistent fines being issued by judges.
To provide a comparison for the fine, Armentrout said that in Montana, the minimum fine for shooting and poaching what they consider a trophy animal is $8,000. Colorado’s fine for the same act is $10,000.
Armentrout continued, “If we can find a codified definition of trophy animal for California, we may be coming back with another resolution.”
According to Armentrout, the commission is not the organization leading the charge. In a commission meeting this March, a Humane Society of the United States representative introduced the need to increase the poaching fine. The idea was immediately supported by the representatives for California Deer Association as well as the Turkey Foundation.
The proposed resolution specifically addresses poaching of deer, elk and pronghorn rather than the definition of general poaching. This is due to not only the commission’s desire to address the issue of big game poaching unambiguously, but also to prevent the large fine from applying to smaller acts such as fishing without a license.
Armentrout mentioned that the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission has been in contact with the fish and game commissions of surrounding counties such as Plumas and Modoc; all of which are looking into the same course of action.
“If we are going to be managing for wolves, which it appears we are, we have another predator, a very efficient predator, in the mix, and therefore we need to eliminate any other impacts — all the impacts we can,” Armentrout said.
The commission would like to forward the resolution to Assemblyman Brian Dahle and State Senator Ted Gaines to see if they can move it forward.
Chairman Aaron Albaugh asked if the statement “forfeiture of the vehicle used while poaching” would be inclusive enough to address if a poacher is convicted.
District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher responded, “As I see it, this is just a resolution to essentially invite state legislative authorities to craft draft legislation to deal with the specific concerns that are being advanced by the fish and game commission and Mr. Armentrout here today.”
Gallagher later continued to suggest that the fine details will be identified through the working draft language. The subject can then be discussed, debated, and changed accordingly.
“I think that this resolution identifies the issue for the folks at the state level with a kind of general goal and the fine points to be worked later,” said Gallagher.
It was mentioned that being too specific with a proposal might be viewed as an act of over-application, thus the specifics of the vehicle forfeiture will be established at a later date.
Albaugh then asked if Armentrout thought the legislation would invite or ask for the input of the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission if they decided to address the proposed resolution further.
Armentrout said the State Fish and Game Commission may ask for a testimony, and if Dahle and Gaines make legislation, the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission would insure the department knows they are willing to testify.
District 3 Supervisor Jeff Hemphill inquired as to the possibility of creating a letter to address the impact of the wolf population on ranchers of Lassen and surrounding counties.
As of now, the wolf plan provides an outline of what the Department of Fish and Wildlife considers good management to keep wolves from taking domestic livestock. Suggestions in said outline include keeping a rider with the livestock at all times and bringing the livestock into a small pasture near a home ranch every night.
“They have a nonrealistic view of how to do it,” said Armentrout. “If the board would like to direct the Commission to work with the ranchers here to come up with something on that, we would be happy to.”
Steering the discussion back to the proposed resolution, District 5 Supervisor Tom Hammond mentioned that the risk of proposing the resolution would be that the Department of Fish and Wildlife would see the proposition as an agreement that Lassen County is no longer opposed to the introduction and further expansion of the wolf population into the state of California.
However, despite this risk, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors made the unanimous decision to pass the proposed resolution to support the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission.
The notion was made by Hemphill and was seconded