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How the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact Makes Poachers Pay

How the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact Makes Poachers Pay

America’s wildlife managers need every advantage to stop law-breakers who poach and pose threats to the future of wildlife and legal, regulated hunting. One critical tool is the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, a U.S. interstate compact initiated by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to provide for the reciprocal sharing of information regarding hunting, fishing and trapping violations and to prevent poaching across state lines.

For some important history, WAFWA was established a century ago in 1922 when seven game commissioners met in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City to discuss the need for states to have influence as new and growing federal agencies began exerting power over land and resources in the West. In the 1930s, it was instrumental in establishing the states as game managers on federal lands. In the 1970s it launched the educational program Project WILD, and in the 1990s created a means of regional representation in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES). More recently, it funded the first-of-its-kind pilot research project to understand public values toward wildlife in the West in the 21st century. Today WAFWA represents the 19 western United States and five western Canadian provinces (and, in fact, NRAHLF.org contributor Jim Heffelfinger is Chairman of its Mule Deer Working Group).

But it was during the 1980s that law enforcement agencies of two WAFWA member states, Colorado and Nevada, began drafting documents to help deal with individuals who broke wildlife and resource laws outside their home states. They patterned their efforts after compacts used to enforce driving and motor vehicle violations between states. Those two states merged their draft documents and in 1989, legislation was passed in Nevada, Colorado and Oregon to initiate the first Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (IWVC). To join, a state must first pass legislation incorporating the IWVC’s language into its statutes and then adopt regulations allowing the appropriate agencies to function within the compact. Member states pay an annual fee and then enter violations into the database shared by all IWVC members.

Since its creation, 45 additional states have joined the IWVC. As of Apr. 23, 2021, Hawaii passed legislation in efforts to join the compact, which has been sent to Gov. David Ige for signing. The last remaining state to join is Massachusetts. Its legislature, the Massachusetts General Court (MGC), meets every two years. It convened in January of this year and will run until Dec. 31. As of Mar. 29, the legislation that would bring Massachusetts into the compact, House Docket 1458 and Senate Docket 551, has been referred to the committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

The IWVC creates reciprocity between the states, allowing law enforcement to track violators and make sure they aren’t breaking the law in one state and then simply crossing the border to continue hunting (or fishing) in another state. If someone is cited for a violation in Pennsylvania, for example, a law enforcement officer in that state can enter that person’s information into the database to find out if they have been cited for a violation or their privileges have been suspended in another state.

To better understand the impact and importance of the IWVC, the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website, NRAHLF.org, interviewed Michael J. Reeder (MJR), IWVC Board Chair and a game warden with the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and Communications Center Director for its Bureau of Wildlife Protection.

NRAHLF.org: What is the most important benefit of the IWVC, in your opinion?
MJR: The sharing of information between states. This allows states to not only suspend those individuals that have committed wildlife crime in other states, but also to have the information available on that person if a member state’s officer were to have contact with that individual in the field.

NRAHLF.org: What need does the IWVC address for law enforcement?
MJR: Started in the western states, the IWVC helped control the individuals that would just cross state borders to hunt if they were suspended in their home state. With the expansion to our current 48 states, the compact now helps control this on a national level. It also allows wildlife law enforcement to have a database of those individuals that have committed wildlife crimes and meet the threshold of license suspension.

NRAHLF.org: Do you think poachers are aware of the IWVC and how their illegal actions—which harm legal, regulated hunting and wildlife management efforts—can be tracked and compounded?
MJR: Over the years I have seen individuals become educated and more concerned with the possibility of being entered in the compact. With many of the eastern states, our violators also often take hunting trips out West. In Pennsylvania, we received many calls of violators not just concerned with in-state suspension but if they will be suspended in other states.

NRAHLF.org: How have you seen the application of the IWVC benefit wildlife and thwart poaching, which IS NOT legal, regulated hunting?
MJR: I see its benefits in two ways. The compact has linked the wildlife law enforcement agencies closer in combating career poachers. The sharing of information is invaluable. With a limited number of wardens out there protecting the resource, we need to share the information we have. Many cases are those that deplete the resource such as over-harvest. The second is those individuals that do get suspended in a state and figure they can just hop across the border and hunt another state are deterred from doing so.

NRAHLF.org: What is the process in Pennsylvania for applying the enforcement provisions of the IWVC?
MJR: In Pennsylvania, we are restricted to ratifying more serious wildlife crimes. We review each case submitted—which could be up to 200 a week during the busy season.  If a case, such as [taking] a deer in a closed season is reviewed, we would ratify it and automatically enter it into our internal prosecution system. All our wardens would be able to see the details of the case and the suspension would show in the [violator’s] profile. They also would be blocked from physically purchasing a license in Pennsylvania.

NRAHLF.org: What is the most important thing that hunters and potential law-breakers need to know about the IVWC?
MJR: That it is used by the member states and we keep it up to date. As I said before, in the busy seasons we may get 200 or more state entries a week.

NRAHLF.org: Is there anything from your knowledge and experience with the IVWC that is underreported or that reporting has missed about the compact and its importance?
MJR: One of the often misunderstood or overlooked functions is the failure to pay or respond to a suspension. States that have a person who visits for a hunting trip and violates the wildlife law of that state can’t just skip town. If the violator returns to their home state, the state where they violated can contact the home state and have them not only suspend them in the home state but enter the violator in the compact until they respond or pay the fine in the violation state.

In looking at the numbers, nearly 60,000 entries have been made to the IVWC database since 2012. South Dakota leads with over 4,000 entries. Wisconsin is next with over 3,600. Then comes Pennsylvania with over 3,400. On the other end of the spectrum, Delaware, Louisiana and Rhode Island have only one submission each. Again, Hawaii and Massachusetts have not yet officially joined the IVWC so they are not included.

Anytime a citation is written, wildlife law enforcement officers can search the IVWC database to find out if other crimes have been committed by that person and start the process to have hunting privileges suspended in multiple jurisdictions or across the board. In upholding the significant role of hunters and hunting in wildlife conservation, it underscores that poaching IS NOT hunting. The message is: “Poachers beware: You can run but you can’t hide.”

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