Audubon California-backed anti-poaching legislation gets first committee hearing.
New legislation to address what many see as a rising threat to California wildlife will see its first committee hearing today (April 28) at the State Capitol. Assembly Bill 708, sponsored by Assembly Member Jared Huffman of Marin, seeks to impose substantial new penalties for poaching.
Audubon California began pushing for new legislation to increase penalties for poaching after learning late last year of an alarming upswing in poaching incidents. The bill lands on the agenda of the Assembly’s Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee with considerable momentum, having already gained widespread support from both sides of the aisle.
“Poaching is a problem that most of us thought was well behind us, but unfortunately for California’s birds and wildlife that is not the case,” said Graham Chisholm, executive director of Audubon California, which has worked closely with Assembly Member Huffman to craft this important legislation. “Because this new wave of poaching undercuts the important work of many to restore California bird populations, both conservationists and hunters should be eager to see this bill get to the Governor’s desk.”
The bill arrives just months after the California Department of Fish & Game declared 2008 “the year of extreme poaching.”
This designation was typified by the arrest of a Gilroy hunter who had in his possession more than 300 bird carcasses — waaay over the legal limit — including protected species such as Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans.
The rise in extreme poaching matches that of poaching overall. Violations jumped from 6,538 in 2003 to 17,840 in 2007. The trend has hit waterfowl particularly hard, with sensitive species of geese and ducks the most at risk.
Despite its terrible toll on native wildlife, poaching currently carries surprisingly light sentences. Regardless of the scale of the carnage, it is almost never treated as a felony under state law, and only rarely under federal law.
Moreover, in 2008, California had fewer than 200 active-duty fish and game wardens actively patrolling the state’s 100 million acres.
One issue that AB 708 directly addresses is poaching for profit and personal gain, as well as the torture or mutilation of fish and wildlife.
“Poaching damages the wildlife and natural resources of our magnificent state which harms all Californians,” said San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris. “Poaching also has a negative economic impact because illegally buying poached wildlife and selling it below market price disadvantages environmentally-responsible businesses. AB 708 helps protect our state.”
If you care about California wildlife, please contact your state legislators and ask them to support AB 708. Thanks for caring. /Gary