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Stiffer penalties for poachers could act as a better deterrent

WORTHINGTON -- I was driving home from Sioux Falls, S.D. in 1989 and was the lucky recipient of some attention from a well-dressed highway patrolman. He thought that I was driving a little fast and rewarded me with a ticket to remind me of this fact. I was in fact speeding 15 mph over the limit.

I couldn't even make up a good excuse. My dad pretended to be asleep, but the smirk on his face gave it away that he found humor in my situation.

I can't remember how much the fine was, but I paid it and learned a lesson for this price of admission. I truly believe that the cost involved when you get caught speeding is the number one reason most drivers do not do it excessively.

It would be great if the safety of others, conserving fuel, or avoiding a deer/car collision were the main reasons drivers didn't speed, but I think it just comes down to cost -- plain and simple.

Speeding ticket fines are quite steep now, and I think this fact has had a big impact on how people drive.

I wish the same could be said for the fines involved when a poacher breaks a game or fishing law.

I have no trouble calling a game law violator a poacher as that is exactly what they are. Violators are actually stealing natural resources from the rest of the law-abiding citizens, and this earns them the title of poacher in my book.

I think for the most part that the rank-and-file outdoorsman is a pretty decent fellow or gal, and the intent of the game laws are followed by the majority of hunters and fisherman. The issue I have is that the penalties for those who don't are way too small.

The fine for being two fish over your limit is so small that the cost in getting caught would not inhibit anyone who really wants two extra fish or 10 for that matter. I think that if you can't count to six in Nobles County (six being the legal limit), that the fine should be $500. This level of fine would all but eliminate people taking over the permitted limit just about anywhere.

I just can't see where there is any justification for going easy on game violators. In the case of very abusive law breaking, it would be more than reasonable -- in my opinion -- to suspend the violators' license in that state for life.

With the reciprocal agreements we have with other states, this would result in the person being unable to hunt or fish in about 12 other states.

I think it would serve them right. There is only one way in Minnesota that a person could loose their right to hunt for life by breaking a game law -- being convicted of hunting while intoxicated and not paying the fine. Shooting deer out of season won't do it; neither will 50 walleyes over the limit.

I'm not saying the little offenses need a huge fines or suspensions.

The rules and regulations surrounding hunting and fishing are complex. Small offenses should be treated as such. I'm talking about the big stuff.

With conservation officers stretched to the limit, the only other factor that could effectively reduce excessive game violations is the possibility of garnishing your check $100 a month for the next 10 years.

There is an old saying that "money talks" and it really fits here.

There has also been a shift toward issuing warning citations instead of tickets. This mentality, using education and hand holding instead of punishment and or fines, has not appeared to work. If you get a warning for shooting before the legal shooting time, I believe that it will have little deterrence as to weather you would do it again. A $500 ticket would have much greater success in deterring this behavior.

I visited with a politician several years back, whom is no longer in office today, as to why he did not support stiffer penalties for the most serious game law offenses. He responded that he did not want to make a criminal out of everyone in his district.

This is a thought process that I was never able to understand.

Is it our responsibility to protect the resources of our state or the reputations of those who break its law?

When I was a kid there were serious penalties to pay for bad behavior. I didn't think much of it at that time, but I believe now that it served me well in the long term. The natural resources of planet Earth would be better off today if these old, time-tested practices were still in effect today.