MADISON — A Wisconsin legislator pressed the state Senate's natural resources committee Wednesday to approve a bill that would create steeper fines for poaching trophy deer.
Current state law allows judges to impose a $43 wild animal protection surcharge on top of poaching fines if they so choose. Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, and Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, have introduced a bill that would dramatically increase that surcharge according to antler spread.
The new fees would range from $2,000 for spreads measuring at least 125 inches to $10,000 for spreads over 170 inches. Judges would still decide whether to impose them.
Criminal deer poaching violations are generally a misdemeanor under current Wisconsin law punishable by up to $2,000 in fines, six months in jail and loss of hunting and fishing licenses for three years plus the surcharge if judges apply it. Petrowski said that's not enough to discourage poachers who can sell trophy antler spreads and other buck body parts for thousands of dollars.
"This bill will update our statutes to make the punishment for poaching trophy-size deer fit the crime," Petrowski told the committee.
The idea for the bill came from the Taylor County Sportsmen's Club, a group of 400 hunters that includes state Department of Natural Resources Warden Nick Nice. The club was upset that someone illegally shot a 175-inch buck at night two weeks before the 2012 gun deer season, Nice said. He told the club a number of states employ graduated fines for poaching larger animals and the group approached Petrowski and Williams about creating a similar scale here.
"Some of them felt the statutory penalties we have today aren't sufficient for the illegal harvest of these large deer," Nice said in a telephone interview from Medford. "It really frustrated them they didn't have a chance to harvest that (175-inch buck) during the legal season."
Petrowski and DNR Warden Thomas Van Haren were the only two people who spoke about the bill on Wednesday. Committee approval would send the measure on to the full Senate but members appeared non-committal, limiting their comments to questions about current law. The panel didn't vote on the bill and Chairman Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said afterward he wasn't sure when it might reconvene.
The Assembly's outdoors committee held a hearing on the bill last month, but that panel's chairman, Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, hasn't scheduled a vote yet, either. Ott didn't immediately return a message Wednesday.
Time is running out; the Assembly plans to wrap up its two-year session in March and the Senate in April. Still, Kedzie said the bill has a good chance of advancing.
"I totally understand where the authors are coming from," Kedzie said.
The bill also imposes higher surcharges for poaching trophy elk and bear, but Williams and Petrowski have introduced an amendment to erase those provisions. Petrowski said in an interview and told the Senate committee the bill was always intended to raise only deer surcharges and he's not sure how elk and bear got included. Williams didn't immediately return a message.
Nice said the sportsmen's club wanted to see elk and bear included in the bill. Williams told him a few weeks ago she was running into opposition on bears, he said.
The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association is a powerful lobbying force in Madison. State records show nobody has officially registered to lobby on the bill, however, and the association's lobbyist, Bob Welch, didn't immediately return messages.