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Editorial: Make despicable trophy poaching a felony crime

A magnificent bull elk, measured as equal to the third-largest ever taken in New Mexico, found dead and rotting in the Gila National Forest, the presumed victim of a poacher using a firearm during bow season.

In 2006 the Legislature increased fines and civil penalties for poaching – they can now top $10,000. But it left the crime a misdemeanor. Just as the fiscal-risk side of the poaching risk-reward ratio is on target, the criminal-record risk should be as well.

New Mexico’s wildlife is a public asset that should be protected and responsibly managed. And so trophy poaching should be a felony. The case of “King” is so egregious – an animal shot out of season and its meat and head left to rot, apparently as the poacher waited to return in season to claim its rack – there can be no excuse, no claim of innocent mistake. New Mexico Game and Fish conservation officer KC Gehrt says “the wanton waste in this situation is sickening.”

Lawmakers did the right thing in 2006 when they increased financial penalties for trophy poaching. In 2014 they should increase criminal penalties as well.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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