On the 'Net
To read a copy of Taylor's Senate Bill 69, visit the Colorado General Assembly's Web page at
www.leg.state.co.us/. Under the "Senate Current Regular Session" heading, click on the "Bills" link. In the "Select Bill Range" box, choose "Senate Bills 051-100." Taylor's bill is SB08-069.
Steamboat Springs State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, has come under fire for a proposed bill that would change hunting laws in Colorado.
Taylor says his bill, which has no other sponsors in the Legislature, is necessary to rein in intimidating and overzealous Division of Wildlife officers. But opponents fear the legislation would unacceptably hamstring the DOW's ability to regulate poaching.
Senate Bill 69 would prevent hunters who have a lawful license - and who obey the license's restrictions on the time, place and manner of the hunt - from being charged with illegal hunting or destruction of wildlife. The bill also includes provisions that would establish levels of culpability for the illegal selling or purchasing of wildlife and the illegal willful destruction of wildlife.
"Obviously we're opposed to the proposed bill," DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said. "It takes the teeth out of some of the more serious poaching penalties in the state."
Baskfield said Taylor's bill, if passed, would prevent the DOW from seizing game taken on private property without permission. Officials would still be able to fine for trespassing and assess 20 points against the offender's license. But Baskfield said that is a small penalty to absorb, especially for out-of-state hunters who may never return and could care less about the points.
"It would be a slap on the wrist," said Susan Mikesell of M&M Outfitters in Craig. "It's the poachers' bill of rights. It really opens the door to a lot of unintended consequences if you do that."
Susan Mikesell's husband, Tom, is president of the Colorado Outfitters Association. The couple traveled to Denver last week to testify against the bill at a meeting of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
In the face of criticism from sportsmen and landowners, Taylor stressed Monday the bill's good intentions.
"There's no intent, coincidentally or intentionally, to affect property rights in any way," Taylor said. "I will not let that happen. : I'm too much of a private property rights guy."
Taylor said his bill is in response to the experience of Jim Gordon of Evergreen. After waiting years to collect the necessary preference points to get a license to hunt a mountain goat, Gordon got his chance and shot one in September 2003. Taylor says Gordon began dressing out the animal but was forced to abandon the work because of the late hour and other factors.
Taylor said Gordon returned the next day, a Saturday, to finish the work. However, thinking the meat had spoiled, Gordon took only the goat's head and cape and left the rest of the carcass. Taylor said Gordon went to the nearest DOW office the next Monday to report the incident.
Although he admits Gordon made a bad decision in abandoning the carcass, Taylor said the offense hardly warranted the four violations Gordon eventually was charged with, including a felony under Colorado's Sampson Law that carries a $10,000 fine. Gordon maintained his innocence and rejected plea bargains. A Chafee County jury convicted him on all four counts in February 2005, a decision upheld on appeal.
Taylor said a responsible hunter who errs in judgment should not be prosecuted like a poacher. Taylor noted Gordon's adherence to his license and the fact that he voluntarily reported the incident to the DOW.
"It certainly is not a criminal offense," Taylor said. "It's basically ruined this guy's life."
Although Gordon's experience inspired the bill, Taylor said its passage would not benefit him in any way.
"Senate Bill 69 is intended to prevent this type of thing in the future, if we can figure out the wording," Taylor said.
The senator and the DOW will work this week to iron out their differences, Taylor and Baskfield said. Taylor noted that he thinks the DOW does mostly good work. But there are "bad apples" in the division, Taylor said, that need to be reined in.
"Some of them, not all of them, are heavy-handed," Taylor said. "These guys are the bad apples. : I can tell you story after story after story where the DOW is driving people away from hunting."
It may take a lot of work for Taylor to succeed in his efforts and revise a bill that the Mikesells said creates more problems than it solves, as currently written.
"He was, in our opinion, trying to fix a problem that occurs very rarely every year," Susan Mikesell said. "Our position was that the division has to be able to charge someone with the violations that occur. You don't want to tie their hands that way."
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