Economy Down, Poaching and Budget Cuts Up

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We've all seen plenty of headlines and blog posts regarding the effects of the economic downturn on hunting. But the more I hear, the more I appreciate the difficulties of the poaching situation in particular.

A little reading led me back to this January story on cbs5.com, which focused on poaching increases in California and Florida (an official quoted in the piece contended that most fish and wildlife trends start in these two states).

While the story said new stats are not yet available, California records show that from 2005 (when the economy was stronger) to 2007 (when it began to dip), the number of poaching-related violations jumped from 14,150 to 17,840. It also highlighted illegal bear kills, which increased from nine to 49. State officials are apparently calling 2008 "The Year of the Extreme Poacher," and recent arrests include the discovery of 335 waterfowl found in a suspect's freezer (including protected species), the poaching and selling of venison to a meat market for $150 per deer and the harvesting of abalone.

Meanwhile in Florida, poaching-related arrested have involved the the discovery of 20 dead does and stags and another case involving 771 undersized lobster tails.

But of course the economy has hit both sides of the poaching war. According to the story, Florida wildlife officials report a decrease in poaching arrests because of budget-related staff cuts. And California only has 374 game wardens to patrol the state.

In terms of the magnitude of the current poaching situation, one California official said, "Not since the market poaching days of the early 1900's have we seen waterfowl poaching of this scope." Another official added, "A lot of poachers would go into the same category as drug dealers and automobile thieves; they're tenacious... It's really frightening to see what's been happening."

Ironic that the economic downturn seems to be encouraging more poaching incidents while simultaneously cutting back the forces responsible for stopping them -- another tough issue in already tough times. -K.H.