Stephen Trabakoulos, the young man who "harvested" a three-month old female mountain lion kitten in February 2016 took a guilty plea and was sentenced in South Dakota this week. His case is a good example of how low penalties encourage wildlife crimes.
The investigation found that Trabakoulos had not lived in South Dakota long enough to qualify for a hunting license. For this, a Rapid City judge fined Trabakoulos $170.
A Deadwood, South Dakota judge fined Trabakoulos $484 for failing to properly tag killed wildlife. A 10 day jail sentence was dropped. His license to hunt was suspended for one year.
The maximum penalties for the charge of class one misdemeanor of improper tagging are fines to $1,000, one year in jail and loss of hunting privileges for a year. The fines clearly would not even cover the state and county costs for citing, investigating and prosecuting the crime.
Loss of hunting privileges for just a year?
Why not allow South Dakota judges to impose sentences for restriction of hunting privileges for a much longer period of time?
On December 30, 2015, Trabakoulos posted this on Facebook: "Tomorrow I'm going to apply for a mountain lion tag, what caliber do y'all suggest. I'm not sure if I want to take the 30-30 or 7mm-08 or 300win mag. Or maybe even 7.62x39." If he had paid even a fraction of the amount of attention to the regulations for hunting lions in South Dakota, he might never have killed a kitten. Or perhaps he knew and just didn't care.
And he's not alone. A late 2015 checkpoint conducted by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department on Interstate 90 found 147 violations among 1,253 hunters checked. That's one in ten, a level that wouldn't be tolerated in other types of crime. And it's level of rulebreaking that wouldn't be allowed in any other "sport".
In a January 2016 article in Outdoor Forum titled Wildlife Crime and Punishment: Why SD needs stiffer fines for trespassing and poaching South Dakota hunting columnist Dana Rogers concluded that "Obviously, nobody is perfect, and mistakes can happen during a hunt. I'm not suggesting we purport or pass laws that are insurmountable for lower-level violations, but if the reward of the illegal activity can be favorably weighed against the risk to these offenders - as is the current case in South Dakota - only the wildlife and legal, ethical hunters pay."
One of Stephen Trabakoulos' many gun-related posts on Instagram.
It's not just happening in the wild west. Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection Director Richard Palmer stated in testimony for House Bill 2205, "The causes of poaching vary, but the myth that most poachers are committing their offenses to provide food is in reality not even a fraction of a percentage of all cases prosecuted. Often, modern poaching is done by criminals driving $30,000 vehicles, using expensive night-vision technology, illegal silencers on the firearms, and often military-style rifles."
We are writing to South Dakota legislators to urge increased penalties for wildlife crimes, and you can help!
What YOU Can Do
If you live in South Dakota, or any other state with laughably low penalties for wildlife crime, contact your local state representative and encourage them to increase the penalties and fines for serious wildlife violations.