No longer can chronic and commercial poaches consider the fines they face in Pennsylvania as merely a "business" expense. That has changed now that Act 54 of 2010 has become law with new penalties, including higher fines and possible jail time, now in effect.

Before the passage into law of what began last year as House Bill 1859, a poacher could kill any of Pennsylvania's big game animals which are deer, elk, bear and turkey and the penalty was the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket with no possibility of jail time. Now, those convicted of killing five or more big game animals, or three big game poaching offenses within seven years, will face possible felony-level penalties ranging from $1,000-$15,000, loss of license privileges for 15 years and up to three years in prison, and the poaching of a single deer now carries a minimum of a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail, with five years license revocation.

House Bill 1859 was sponsored by House Game and Fisheries Committee chairman Ed Staback and approved by a 196-3 vote, July 21, 2009. After minor adjustments were made to the bill, it was unanimously approved this July by the Senate, was followed by a 189-6 concurrence vote in the House and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell.

Staback said that when he first sat down with Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe to talk about putting an anti-poaching bill together, he wanted the penalties to be so tough that they would become a deterrent, keeping people from committing the crime in the first place. This new law also includes heightened penalties for the buying and selling of game; increased fines for summary offenses, such as using unlawful methods or devices; increased penalties for the killing of threatened or endangered species; and increased jail time for non-payment of fines from 120 days to six months.

"Increasing penalties for serious violations is one of the operational objectives within the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Strategic Plan," Roe said. "This marks the first comprehensive piece of legislation to increase Game and Wildlife Code penalties since 1987, and we believe it will significantly enhance wildlife protection in the Commonwealth, especially since this marks the first time that some poachers could actually face prison time for their actions."

As examples of how the new law would be applied, PGC Bureau of Wildlife Protection director Rich Palmer said that a case from last December in which two individuals who went on a two-day poaching spree that resulted in at least eight dead deer were liable for up to $6,400 in fines and three years of hunting license revocations. Under the new law, for committing the same offense a violator would be looking at up to $15,000 in fines, up to three years in jail and up to 15 years of license revocation.

In another example, two individuals were found guilty of killing a black bear out of season last year and each was charged with committing a summary offense, with fines up to $1,500 and three years license revocation. Anyone caught committing the same crime now is facing a misdemeanor offense with fines up to $3,000, up to six months imprisonment and five years of hunting license revocation.

Roe noted that a second bill, Senate Bill 1200, sponsored by Senate Game and Fisheries Committee Chairman Richard Alloway, would complete the state's effort to discourage would-be poachers from committing their crimes in Pennsylvania by becoming enrolled in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. This bill passed the Senate unanimously in March and presently is awaiting a final vote in the House.

"By having Pennsylvania part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, anyone convicted of poaching-related offenses in Pennsylvania also would lose their hunting privileges in other IWVC-member states," Roe said. "Similarly, those convicted of poaching-related offenses in other IWVC-member states would not be able to lawfully hunt in Pennsylvania."