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Key Aspects of a Wildlife Law Enforcement System

While wildlife law enforcement personnel take part in many, if not all, aspects of wildlife management, this section addresses those activities that are part of the wildlife law enforcement subsystem.

Wildlife law enforcement objectives, or statements of desired outcomes, are important for measuring enforcement program achievement. Unfortunately, most state wildlife law enforcement divisions don't have enforcement objectives and criteria for measuring objectives. About 1 of every 5 state vildlife law enforcement divisions has 1 or more objectives and 1 or more measurement criteria for each objective.There are many objectives of the subsystem. A list of potential objectives developed over many years in research projects at Virginia Tech include:

  1. Decreasing the number of violations and of offenders, and arresting the latter as a means of ensuring that laws and regulations are fully observed.
  2. Preventing abusive exploitation of fish and animal species covered under a controlled exploitation.
  3. Enhancing the quality of the hunting, fishing, and trapping experience.
  4. Protecting hunters, anglers and trappers from the dangers and abuses involved in illegal activities.
  5. Providing for the safety of hunters, anglers, trappers, and other users of outdoor resources.
  6. Ensuring the agency a stable income, e.g., by controlling the selling of permits and collecting fines from violators of the laws and regulations.
  7. Preventing endangered wildlife populations from disappearing in Designated areas.
  8. Preventing animal from becoming threatened or endangered.
  9. Ensuring each individual an even opportunity to use the wildlife population, and that no one individual or group abuse this resource to the detriment of others.
  10. Ensuring all citizens maximum pleasure and satisfaction from experiences with all species of the wildlife resources.
  11. Discouraging lawlessness, in general, by enforcement of the wildlife segment of the laws.
  12. To provide a special type of education and general behavioral change toward a socially-acceptable standard
  13. Protecting the ecological health of environments, especially from pollution and conflicts in land use.
  14. Assuring desired population harvest levels are achieved.
  15. Improving or achieving a balance between users expectations and their actual experiences (satisfaction).
  16. Providing certain types of research and survey data.
  17. Protecting property, land owners, and hunters from hunters (safety).
  18. Protecting commercial interests (e.g., crops, livestock, orchards) from wildlife.
  19. Secondary, policy, and philosophy-related objectives (a variety of "types") are abundant:

Staff, as part of this plan, should assign a weight (W) or relative importance to each objective. Then annually, a subjective evaluation (K) (perhaps on a scale of 0 to 10) can be given to each and an overall annual subsystem score (S) obtained. Procedures will be provided.

It will be clear from the above that a simple statement of a wildlife law enforcement system will not serve anyone well. An objective of reducing arrests (logical if poaching has been prevented) can promote inaction by a scheming officers (i.e., to get a good score, make no arrests!). Awards are given for maximum arrests, but an agent who is very effective in education, prevention, and early arrests could never gain such an award. Hundreds of small-crime arrests might counter one or two carefully-planned arrests developed over several years for a single highly-valued case.

The subsystem plans include:

  1. Reducing the number and complexity of laws and regulations.
  2. Providing education and training to prevent inadvertent violation of laws.
  3. Marking areas clearly to encourage hunting in appropriate areas.
  4. Where feasible, encouraging a buddy system among hunters, both to increase safety and reduce violations.
  5. Maintain easy access and ease of communicating observed violations to agents and the landowner.
  6. Encourage appropriate patrols by assisting police, state and county agents, and deputized individuals.
  7. Reporting crimes, their consequences, and people convicted.
  8. Working with the courts and citizen boards to assure appropriate, consistent, and just fines and punishment. (Many law enforcement systems are highly efficient but falter in the last stage when, after conviction, sentences are light or suspended. Bullard (in a Virginia Tech MS Thesis) has developed a scaling procedure for the "badness" of a wildlife crime. Work with assigning the weights of objectives themselves by officers of the courts may be attempted).
  9. An annual record of success -- perhaps showing an increase in some reported score -- should be published annually. Costs of the system should be approximated so that cost per unit of change in S can be estimated and reported.
  10. Trends in local populations will be watched. If crimes are committed by one age group and that age group doubles in a few years, it may be that the law enforcement, good and improving, may not be able to "keep up" with the work load resulting from the shift in the human population. Monitoring people and crimes is needed to be sure that proper allocations are made to increase (or decrease) investments in a wildlife law enforcement subsystem.

Plans are to continue land posting and to supply rules with permits. Hunters and other area users are required to have safety briefing and to have other certification.

Wildlife law enforcement can be seen as parallel to the other major aspects of faunal system management. It is making decisions and taking actions to manipulate the structure, dynamics, and relations between wild animal populations and people to achieve specific human objectives by means of the wild faunal resource. An important objective of enforcement is to manipulate the relations between wild animal populations and people.

History can provide insights. Wildlife (game and fish) law enforcement in the United States was the initial practice in the sequential development of law enforcement, predator control. refuge establishment, artificial stocking, habitat improvement and enterprise dynamics. Wildlife law enforcement as a tool for regulating the harvest of wildlife dates back about 1,000 years in recorded history.

Wildlife mores are standards of behavior toward wildlife that are regarded by a group as necessary for the welfare of the group. Wildlife mores become wildlife laws when they are formally enacted by a duly-authorized legislative body and when violation results in officially sanctioned punishment. Wildlife laws are formal means of social control, in contrast to informal folkways, mores and customs. Laws are needed to standardize mores and penalties for violating them. Wildlife laws tend to become more important as social control agents as a society advances chronologically and culturally and as social interactions increase.

Some wildlife law or regulation violations may occur because of conflicting desires of informal social control agents (e.g. hunter groups) and formal social control agents (wildlife law enforcement divisions and their representatives).

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Last revision January 17, 2000.