Stewardship

Where Hunting Happens, Conservation Happens™

Boone and Crockett Club's Poach and Pay Project

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CHANGING THE GAME ON POACHING

Ensuring the Punishment Fits the Crime

Sportsmen and women know hunting is not poaching, and that poachers are thieves not hunters. But there is a public perception problem—and perceptions can become reality. Poachers must be held accountable and pay for their crimes. This is what the Boone and Crockett Club’s Poach & Pay Project will address.

Poaching goes against all that we hold sacred as law-abiding sportsmen and women and undermines the entire foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. However, the media often uses the terms hunting and poaching interchangeably, dragging all hunters down with the crimes of poachers. In addition, with little consistency among states in terms of fines and restitution, poachers often get away with little penalty. This emboldens them and other poachers to steal our public trust resources—and potentially the future of hunting.

We believe we have poked a sleeping grizzly on this issue. The problem goes far deeper than originally expected, and the Club is prepared to direct serious effort into corrective action. But in addition to the necessary change in the legal system, there is a significant need to clearly communicate that poaching is not hunting—hunting is legal and regulated while poaching is not—and the rise of trophy poaching is an even more egregious crime. With your help, the Boone and Crockett Club is ideally positioned to help further protect wildlife and the image of ethical hunters.

The Boone and Crockett Club—with the assistance of the Wildlife Management Institute, initial sponsor Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, and private contributions—will embark on a five-part public education Poach & Pay campaign designed to deter poaching and protect our valuable natural resources and hunting heritage. We are committing tremendous resources to presenting this project to top-level political and wildlife agency audiences, the Department of the Interior, law enforcement agencies, and all sportsmen—but we need your help.

It’s time to raise the stakes and change the game on poaching.

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In 2016, the Boone and Crockett Club conducted research on the state restitution systems for illegal take of big game species through Phase I of the Poach & Pay project. This review found that 42 states currently have restitution programs—many include a trophy restitution—however there is little apparent standardization of restitution costs, either within or among states. While surveyed state conservation officers believed that poaching penalties accurately reflect the crime and current values of illegally taken animals, the survey found that the judicial system often was the primary obstacle in convicting and punishing poachers.

In fact, wildlife cases are disproportionately dismissed, and penalties are often applied inconsistently. This suggests that there is a lack of understanding of wildlife laws and the perception that poaching is a victimless crime. Punishment for poaching violations should help deter future crime. Poach & Pay will work with state wildlife agencies, legislators, and the judicial system to improve the detection and conviction of poachers and to ensure that the fines being assessed for this illegal killing are in line with the value our society places on its wildlife.

The Problem

In One State, 98% of crimes undetected, $43.2 Million in Unrecovered Revenue Annually 

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As a case study, Poach & Pay researchers Dr. Kristie Blevins and Dr. Jonathan Gassett used statewide wildlife crime citation and court data from 2006 to 2017 to evaluate the real cost of illegal take violations and restitution and fines in Kentucky. Using only the minimum amount for fines and restitution, the study estimated the annual fiscal impact for all detected fish and wildlife violations for the state was approximately $1.1 million, with almost 80% ($864,778) of the total impact tied to poaching. Unfortunately, the state wildlife agency recovered an average of only 12.5% ($94,981 in fines; $13,634 in restitution) of those costs annually. In addition, while little empirical data on detection rates of wildlife crimes exists, it is believed that only a small portion of wildlife crimes are detected with estimates ranging from 0.67 to 3.33%. In the Kentucky example, using the midpoint of these estimates (2% detection rate) leaves a “dark figure” of 98% of wildlife crimes in Kentucky that go undetected. Assuming this rate is accurate, the real cost of illegal take violations in Kentucky is approximately $43.2 million!

Dr. Blevins and Dr. Gassett will be leading the Club’s Poach & Pay research project.

Next Steps

What is Poaching and Why Does it Matter?

Poaching is the illegal take of wildlife by kill or capture. Poaching is often defined as unlawful hunting, as if some kind of subset of hunting, which it is not. Poaching is a crime. Poachers are not hunters, nor conservationists—they are thieves. The Boone and Crockett Club’s Poach & Pay Project aims to develop a better understanding of the scope of the issue and provide specific actions to increase the prosecution and penalties for wildlife crimes.

Poach & Pay will show that poaching is not a victimless crime, and that the future of wildlife conservation and our hunting heritage depends on fighting wildlife crime!

Tragically, poaching can have significant impacts on wildlife populations while compromising the perception of hunting and the positive conservation benefits that law-abiding hunters provide to the non-hunting public. However, there is little wildlife crime data in the U.S., despite billions of dollars in known illegal economic activity globally. Since wildlife crime data is often assumed, state wildlife agencies can make imprecise scientific wildlife management decisions. In addition, the detection and conviction rates are so low in some states that tens of millions of dollars are left on the table from uncollected restitution and fines that could have been used for wildlife conservation. To fight this battle that has the potential to end our legal hunting opportunities, we must understand the true detection rates and the conservation and financial costs of wildlife crimes.

The conservation and financial consequences resulting from violations of state fish and wildlife laws have yet to be fully understood. The Poach & Pay research will help uncover what we don’t know:

  • We do not know why a person chooses, or is motivated, to poach. We have assumptions, but no verified supporting data.
  • We do not have a scientifically verified rate of detection for wildlife crimes. The detection rate is thought to be astonishingly low.
  • We do not know how many animals are actually poached.
  • We do not know why many courts and legislatures give low priority to wildlife crimes.

What Makes Poach & Pay Unique?

The research conducted through Poach & Pay will be the first of its kind to use a modern statistical, scientific, and sociological methodology to describe the complex issue of poaching and other wildlife crimes in North America. More importantly, we will also offer justifiable recommendations for reducing offenses by attacking the motivations for committing those crimes. 


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt