Denver District 8 Sen. Jack Taylor has been given another week to attempt a compromise with the Colorado Division of Wildlife about his bill that would dramatically change the crime of illegal hunting in the state.
One opponent said when he first saw Taylor's Senate Bill 69, he thought it was the "Poacher Protection Act of 2008."
Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, wants to prohibit someone from being charged with illegal hunting or destruction of wildlife if they have a lawful license and are in compliance with the license's restrictions as to the time, place and manner of the hunt.
"In too many instances, they have used the heavy hand of law enforcement on hunters and ranchers that is overzealous or lacking common sense," Taylor said in his introduction to the bill at a hearing Thursday before the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
He then introduced Evergreen resident Jim Gordon, who waited nine years to collect enough preference points to get a license to hunt a mountain goat.
Gordon said he shot his goat late on a Friday afternoon in September 2003, but because it was growing dark, he was out of drinking water and was at the 12,500 foot level of Mt. Princeton in Chaffee County, he did not complete dressing out the animal and removing the carcass. Nor did he remove the carcass the next day because the meat smelled bad, and he did not believe it was any longer edible.
Gordon reported the incident the following Monday to a district wildlife office in Hot Sulphur Springs, but was shocked when he was charged with four violations, including the felony of willful destruction of wildlife that carries an automatic $10,000 fine.
He said he rejected three separate offers of a plea bargain that would have negated any felony charges because he wasn't guilty. A Chaffee County jury disagreed and convicted him on all four counts during a February 2005 trial.
At his sentencing hearing, Gordon said, the wildlife officers involved in his case recommended a $135,000 fine and a year in jail.
"Context and intent were not taken into account," he said said. "I've been a law-abiding, God-fearing man all my life. What happened to me is wrong, and I wouldn't want it to happen to anyone else."
Among the bill's opponents who testified Thursday was Rob Firth, the DOW's chief law enforcement officer. He said statements from wildlife officers and court records differed from Gordon's account of the events leading up to the charges.
"This bill goes far beyond its intent," Firth said. "The working would prevent any changes from being filed in serious cases of poaching."
Similar sentiments were expressed by representatives of the Colorado Shooting Association, the Sportsmen's Advisory Group and the Colorado Wildlife Association.
"If the DOW makes a mistake is should be held accountable," said the Wildlife Association's John Smeltzer. "But when I first saw this bill, I thought it was the Poaching Protection Act of 2008."
SAG spokesman Kent Ingram, said poaching would increase if Taylor's bill passed.
"Liberalizing the law makes it easier to have a violation and not be held accountable for it," Ingram said. "It is the responsibility of the hunter to know what the law is. (Gordon) made serious errors in judgment that resulted in serious violations. He had years to study up while waiting for the tag."
Committee chairman Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said he agrees the DOW needs more flexibility in determining what charges to file on some hunting violations, but indicated Taylor's bill goes too far.
"Out in the woods things can happen," Isgar said. "Mistakes occur, and I don't want to get to a point where people are afraid to report it when mistakes are made."
Isgar urged Taylor to work with DOW officials before he schedules a vote on his bill for next week.
"There needs to be some way to address this issue without going so far," Isgar said. "We need to separate the poacher from a person who makes a mistake."
Taylor's other DOW-related bill, which extends the lives of two game management programs for elk in northwest Colorado and for antelope in eastern Colorado, easily passed the Senate on Monday and is headed to the House for consideration.
Another bill that would have required legislative approval before the DOW could buy land out of private ownership to increase wildlife habitat was killed Wednesday in the House Agriculture Committee.
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, was unable to convince his colleagues that the agency needs more accountability in its land acquisitions. Opponents said such acquisitions already have to pass the scrutiny of the legislature's Joint Capitol Development Committee, so there already is oversight.