What Is the Lacey Act?

If you’re a hunter or outfitter in Colorado, the Lacey Act is a piece of federal legislation you should be aware of. It punishes people who transport or sell illegally caught game across state lines (or from reservation or federal land).

The Lacey Act, introduced in 1900, is the United States’ oldest and most powerful federal wildlife protection law. It penalizes people who import, export, buy, sell, acquire, or transport illegally acquired plants, fish, and wildlife across state lines or bring them into the country from overseas. When it was first created, the Lacey Act was designed to stop poachers selling game in other states, but today it covers a wider range of situations.

Breaching the Act can have serious financial consequences. In 2012, Gibson Guitars, which manufactured musical instruments from smuggled Madagascar ebony and Indian rosewood, admitted breaching the Act and ended up paying a penalty of $300,000 and an additional $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In addition to being fined, some big game outfitters have served terms in jail for contravening the Lacey Act.

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How Can a Hunter Breach the Lacey Act?

Many breaches of this Act are accidental, but unfortunately that won’t protect you from prosecution. Here are some common ways hunters and outfitters might breach the Act.

  • Transporting illegally caught game. A hunter can breach the Lacey Act by selling or simply moving illegally caught game across state lines, to or from a Native American Reservation, or from a piece of federal land. For example, if you illegally catch game at a federal wildlife reserve, you will be technically breaching the Lacey Act by driving it home.
  • Breaking another state’s laws. States have different laws aimed at regulating hunting, preventing the spread of animal disease, and ensuring local wildlife populations are sustainable. If you travel to hunt, make sure both your hunting expedition and the methods you are using to kill game are legal in the state you’re in. It’s a good idea to do your due diligence so you can avoid accidentally committing both local offenses while you’re there and Lacey Act violations when you try to leave.

If you’re an outfitter sending meat home to a client, it also pays to check the rules in the state it’s going to. Outfitters have been caught in the past, not realizing that the client’s home state does not allow the importation of certain species of animal.

  • Hunting with someone who doesn’t have a license. If your hunting buddy doesn’t have a license, you may also get into situations where you may have breached the Act. For instance, if you’re driving back home with game in your vehicle and you get stopped while travelling between states.

If you use an unlicensed outfitter, you might also breach the Lacey Act when you try to move the meat or when they try to send it to you. It’s always best to know who you are hunting with and whether they’re licensed and complying with regulations.

  • Illegal group shooting. If you’re hunting in a group and you exceed your individual limit for that state and try to pass it off as someone else’s kill, you can also be prosecuted under the Lacey Act. Not long ago, high-profile hunter Chris Brackett was caught and prosecuted under the Act when he tried to get around state limits for elk hunting by transporting an elk he had killed under his cameraman’s permit.
  • Purchasing or being given meat from illegal hunting. A final way in which people may be caught by the Lacey Act is buying or taking meat from someone who has killed the animal illegally (whether or not the person accepting it knows it was caught illegally). If someone else offers you meat from an animal they have killed, it’s a good idea to check whether the person has a hunting license and a tag.

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What Are the Penalties if I’m Convicted Under the Act?

The Lacey Act creates both civil and criminal liability. The sentence a person or organization will receive depends upon their degree of culpability, with the law making a distinction between people who accidentally broke the Lacey Act and those who knowingly broke the law. If your livelihood depends on hunting or operating as an outfitter, the consequences for your business can be devastating:

  • The maximum civil penalty for an individual is $10,000.
  • The maximum misdemeanor penalty for an individual is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment (the misdemeanor penalty for an organization is a $200,000 fine).
  • The maximum felony penalty for an individual is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 (the felony penalty is $500,000 for an organization).
  • Hunters and outfitters convicted under the Lacey Act can have their hunting licenses or licenses to operate taken away and their equipment forfeited for a lengthy period of time.

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Schedule a Consultation With a Colorado Lacey Act Wildlife Defense Attorney

Being charged under the Lacey Act can be very stressful and can have significant consequences for both you and your business. Make sure you have some good support and some sound legal advice. Patrick F. Welsh at Welsh Law, LLC, is an experienced and successful Colorado wildlife law attorney.

Call Welsh Law, LLC, at (720) 836-1777 today to schedule a free consultation.

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