I was recently asked by a Keep Routt Wild board member to define poaching. At first I was shocked, but as I looked into poaching and the studies around the psychology of poaching, I found this telling quote that referenced multiple studies: “Deviant behavior is so deeply rooted that hunters do not recognize a disparity between their beliefs and their actions.”
Poaching broadly refers to the illegal taking of wildlife and wildlife resources. Colorado Parks and Wildlife acknowledges studies that indicate poachers may kill almost as many animals as legitimate hunters take during legal seasons. Considering that Colorado hunters legally killed more than 38,500 elk in 2017 that is a staggering amount of crime against wildlife and the people of Colorado.
While some try to justify these numbers by perpetuating the myth that poachers are poor people trying to feed their families, according to CPW, “putting food on the table is one of the least common motives for poaching.” Studies show that more common reasons for poaching are: thrill killing, trophy poaching, poaching as a traditional right, commercial gain and/or disagreement with wildlife regulations.
Complicating the effort to reduce poaching is the “good old boy” hunting culture. Adding to this culture is the documented selective prosecution of poachers by enforcement personnel. This “others are worse,” “our own codes guide us” and “we are good folk” mentality in the United States West is often used to try to differentiate good poaching vs. bad poaching. If self-described ethical hunters and enforcement personnel do not recognize that poaching is poaching and/or refuse to police their own, then it is up to the general public to do more to help conserve our wildlife resources.
What can you do about poaching? Please report potential hunting violations to Operation Game Thief — 877-COLO-OGT or [email protected]. I have personally reported hunters for shooting from roads, hunters hunting on public lands that prohibit hunting and private property owners baiting elk with salt licks.
No matter how you enjoy public lands this fall, please help reduce poaching by reporting what you witness. Operation Game Thief will keep your identity anonymous if you prefer. Hunting partners and spouses have turned in poachers and collected the rewards.
The voter-approved 2A trails project has uncovered known incidents of poaching and other illegal activities on public lands. Trails are part of the solution and help to reduce illegal activities such as poaching through better public monitoring.