Our View: Kill Taylor’s hunting bill
February 13, 2008
State Sen. Jack Taylor says his Senate Bill 69 is needed to rein in intimidating and overzealous Division of Wildlife officers. But the bill, as currently written, does little more than protect hunters who break the law.
Taylor’s bill, which has no other sponsors in the House or Senate, would prevent hunters with valid licenses from being charged with illegal hunting or destruction of wildlife, provided that those hunters obeyed the license’s restrictions on the time, place and manner of the hunt. The bill also includes provisions to establish levels of culpability for illegally selling or purchasing wildlife and for the willful destruction of wildlife.
It appears the bill is in response to the experience of Jim Gordon, an Evergreen man who was tried and convicted of four charges, including a felony, for shooting a Rocky Mountain goat in September 2003 and leaving the carcass. Gordon said he tried to field dress the animal but was unable to do so because of the late hour and other factors. When he returned the next day, Gordon said the meat was spoiled, so he took only the animal’s head and cape.
He reported the incident at a DOW office a couple days later and was charged with four violations, including felony willful destruction of wildlife and its associated $10,000 fine.
Gordon rejected several plea bargains and ultimately was convicted on all four counts by a Chafee County jury. The decision was upheld on appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an additional appeal.
Taylor said hunters like Gordon shouldn’t be treated like poachers and that the DOW has some “bad apples” whose over-the-top tactics are driving people away from hunting.
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“Senate Bill 69 is intended to prevent this type of thing in the future, if we can figure out the wording,” Taylor said.
We disagree with Taylor. Gordon was treated as he should have been – like a hunter who broke laws to which all resident and non-resident hunters are held accountable. He had an opportunity to avoid felony charges but chose to reject the plea offers.
Now we’re left with a poorly written bill that might do little more than open loopholes to protect poachers and hunters who defy state law.
The DOW and a variety of sportsmen organizations, including the Colorado Shooting Association, the Sportsmen’s Advisory Group, Colorado Bowhunters, the Colorado Outfitters Association and the Colorado Wildlife Federation have been vocal in their opposition to Senate Bill 69. Some have nicknamed the bill the “Poacher’s Bill of Rights.”
DOW officials and sportsmen groups interpret the language of the bill to mean that, among other things, hunters could harvest an animal on private land, without permission, and avoid criminal charges as well as be able to keep the animal. The DOW could assess a fine and points against the offender’s license, but DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said that is the equivalent of a slap on the wrist for an out-of-state hunter who may never return and could care less about the points.
Hunting and fishing is a $2.6 billion annual industry for Colorado, and any legislation that would make poaching and illegal or unethical hunting more attractive – and less punishable – would be a serious mistake. Taylor, who is term-limited, has a long history of sparring with the DOW, and while some of his stances against the wildlife agency may have merit, we don’t believe this one does. Senate Bill 69 should never make it out of committee.