SCOTT RALL COLUMN: Why do we value our resources so lightly?
WORTHINGTON -- So what is a walleye, a deer, or a duck worth? To me, they are worth thousands of dollars. Let me explain.
I was reading the Star Tribune website the other day and they were reporting on a poaching ring that was busted in northern Minnesota. There, 31 native and non-native folks operated a net, sell and re-sell operation that was illegally taking walleyes. These fish came from northern Minnesota lakes like Upper Red Lake, Six Mile Lake, Cass Lake and Winnibigoshish. Ten were indicted on federal charges and the rest will be charged on a state and tribal level.
The report went on to say that some of those involved might get their hunting and fishing licenses revoked for a period of time. They illegally netted the fish and then sold and re-sold them until they ended up in different bars and restaurants that seemed to be affiliated with those involved. Everyone involved should never fish in any state ever again.
I have, for my entire adult life, advocated for greatly increased penalties for game and fish violators. This advocacy has not been well received nor, to any great extent, been enacted. Minnesota made a move about 10 years ago to implement greater penalties for what were considered gross violations. Anyone with more than 50 fish over their limit was considered a gross violator.
I was visited at that time by a then-Minnesota House of Representatives member who was campaigning door to door. He was in office and was badly beaten in that next election. I was very glad to see it. I asked him to support the proposed gross over-limit violation law that was being considered. He responded to me that there was no way he could support such regulations because he did not want everyone in his district to become a law beaker or maybe even a felon.
I thought to myself, what does that say about what he thinks of his constituents? The law passed and did slightly increase penalties for those caught with many fish over their limit, but it was still so watered down that it had no measurable effect on reducing the number of folks who think all game and fish belong solely to them. Fines and citation costs are so low they are just a joke. Take, for example, the Minnesota man caught and charged with dumping many dump truck loads of construction debris over the bank and into a river.
This was not a few wood scraps, but many cubic yards of carpet, sheetrock and other debris. The dumping was so agriegeous you could see the dump site on a Google Earth satellite map. No one knows how long the dumping had been going on, but it is most likely that if it had gone on for any length of time, most of the junk just washed away every time the river flooded its banks, as most do almost every spring. I figured we would see this in some big-time state newspaper and a big deal would be made of it. In the end, the company was issued a cease and desist order, required to remove the debris and pay a whopping fine of about $200.
This is and was an absolute joke. The penalty for getting caught was so small that the individual could just write off the $200 as the cost of doing business. There is no statute on the books that allows for any greater penalty than what this guy got. He was given the maximum penalty available under current law. I think a $25,000 fine would be just about right. Add in a story on the front page of the local paper to notify all would-be violators about what the new costs of getting caught are and maybe the end result would be a change in the thought process of any potential would-be dumper.
I can understand the fisherman who might end up with one or two fish over limit by accident in a boat with many anglers. He might also have one fish that is too short or too long for a slot limit by ¼-inch. This person needs to pay too, but not an arm or a leg. Currently, I think the cost for this violation for a first-time offender is about $100. I am good with that. Where the changes need to be made is in the violations where an accident could not possibly have happened.
The guy with 50 fish over limit needs to be done fishing in that state for life and pay $10,000. The guy who shot a deer at night with a spotlight, out of season needs to be done hunting for life.
Why do we value our resources so little that we set laws, regulations and corresponding fines that are so soft that they have absolutely no deterrent effect on those who might decide to push the limits or break the law?
What about the person who buys a license for every man, women and child in his family and then hunts by himself and shoots five deer? The slang for this is called kitchen tags and the practice is totally illegal. What should happen to this person? Right now they are out for a year and can resume their so-called hunting again after missing only one season. I think a much longer suspension is in order. How does 10 years sound? A gross fishing violation should affect your hunting privileges and a gross hunting violation should affect your fishing privileges as well.
Many more violations need to be considered as gross violations and added to the list of high-cost infractions. The only way to lose your hunting privileges for life in Minnesota today is to be convicted of hunting while intoxicated and then not paying the fine. We need to act and respond in a manner that makes it perfectly clear that we care about our natural resources and will penalize those who would take for themselves what belongs to all Minnesota residents.
I don't care if it's a forest, river, wetland, prairie or any of the creatures that inhabit them, we all need to be involved and do what it takes to protect them -- not only for our children, but for their children as well. Any politician that reads this can certainly call me at 360-6027 and I will give them the ethical sportsman's list of all the things that law breakers do that should be added to the "you will never hunt or fish again in Minnesota" list.
I doubt my phone will be ringing off the wall. Please add the turn-in-poachers number to your phone book memory and use it every time you see a violation. This can be used for game and fish violations and waters violations as well. It is 1-800-652-9093. I have not used it in the past two years, but would not hesitate to if and when circumstances require.
Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.