Our Voice: Poachers are thieves -- the public is the victim

Wildlife is a public resource, and poaching is theft of public property. There. We said it.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates poachers kill as many animals as legitimate hunters do -- with several differences.

-- Legal hunting limits the kill and the season for animals that are part of the "annual harvestable surplus." Poachers kill year-round, even during breeding season.

-- Hunting fees support our wildlife management and outdoor conservation. Poachers don't pay for tags, thus depriving the state of revenue.

An elk license, for example, costs $50.40 for a Washington resident. It's almost 10 times that for others. Multiply that by everyone who buys a tag and it adds up. Subtract from that the number of animals taken illegally -- nobody knows exactly what that number is -- and the revenue comes down significantly.

The bottom line is that poachers are stealing from all of us.

The recent case of poaching on the Hanford reservation has us baffled on several levels.

The short story is two men who work for Hanford contractors pleaded guilty to hunting without a license (poaching ), on land that is not open to the public -- and where guns are not permitted.

Aside from the unwelcome notoriety and embarrassment they probably are feeling, they also got a $6,000 fine each.

They are lucky they didn't get worse.

It could have been jail time and confiscation of their boat and vehicle and weapons.

Letter writers and online commenters seem to range from jealousy to outrage. Some wonder why the poachers didn't lose their jobs at Hanford.

A few are willing to cut them some slack. One says, "They're kids. They screwed up. They got caught and punished. Get over it." (One is 27 and the other 29).

Others are much less forgiving.

And some, though they don't come right out and say it, are probably hoping to get invited on the next hunting trip.

A quick search of the internet tells you that paying $6,000 to bag a trophy elk is actually on the bargain end of the scale.

No wonder hunters who play by the rules feel especially cheated.

Legitimate hunters pay fees like they're supposed to, compete with other hunters and may or may not come home with an animal.

If they set their hopes on bagging a large trophy bull elk, like the ones taken at Hanford, the odds are not in their favor.

The Fish and Wildlife rewards tipsters who turn in poachers with either a financial incentive or extra points in special draws.

Sportsmen and nonhunters alike are justified in being outraged by poachers.