Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tennessee Lawmaker Thinks Deer Are A "Nuisance", But Poachers Not So Much

Did the title of this post get your attention? Did it have "shock value"? Did you think, "what the heck", or something similar? Well, good. Those are the exact reactions I wanted you to have. If you're a Tennessee hunter, I'll bet your reaction will be even more intense by the time you finish reading the article.

State Seal of Tennessee.
State Seal of Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hunting is one of my hobbies and one of my passions. My health situation doesn't allow me to hunt as much as I'd like, but I'm always thankful for the opportunities I do have. Every year, I look forward to spring and the start of turkey season. Every fall, I look forward to November and the start of muzzleloader deer season, just like thousands of other hunters in Tennessee and other states. Legal, ethical hunters, no matter what state they live in, have two things in common - a love for the outdoors and a disdain for poachers.

Our dislike for poachers is because they illegally kill game animals, oftentimes trophy animals, and deprive us of the legal, ethical opportunity to do so. While we purchase license(s) and put in hours and hours of homework in order to hunt and enjoy the outdoors the right way, poachers take the easy, illegal, unethical way out. These criminal poachers have no respect for the law, legal hunters, landowners, and the very animals they kill. They kill animals when they want, how they won't, and without regard for the safety and property rights of others. They are basically thieves stealing a resource they are not entitled to. The sad part is that in the state of Tennessee, if a poacher is caught and convicted of his or her crime, they get a mere slap on the wrist. However, Tennessee State Senator Jim Tracy is currently sponsoring legislation (SB 0904 / HB 1185) that will significantly increase the penalty a convicted poacher will pay, if it becomes law.

According to the bill's summary, under current Tennessee law, if a person illegally kills a deer, turkey, bear, elk, etc., TWRA can recover damages of at least $200 for each such animal. If the animal is an elk the amount jumps to at least $1000.

If Sen. Tracy's legislation becomes law, these amounts will increase substantially. For instance, restitution will be required in the amount of:
  1. at least $1500 for each illegally killed bear or elk,
  2. at least $1000 for each illegally killed deer or turkey,
  3. in addition to #1 or 2 above, there would be an additional $500 per point for an antlered deer or elk with 8-10 points or $750 per point if it has 11 or more points, 
  4. in addition to #1, another $3000 would be added if the bear is female, and
  5. the person(s) hunting / fishing / trapping license is revoked until the restitution is paid.
Now, let's compare current law to the proposed new one. According to the bill's summary, currently if a poacher kills an 8-point whitetail buck deer and is caught and convicted, they have to pay ONLY $200 in damages to TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency). If these new, stiffer restitution amounts become law, that same illegally killed 8-point will NOW cost the poacher $5000 {$1000 + (8 x $500 per antler point)}. I think legal, ethical hunters across this state will agree with me - this is good, needed legislation that needs to become law .... now. Non-hunters will likely agree, also. However, one Tennessee State Senator, Frank Niceley, a Republican, from East Tennessee thinks it's a bad idea.

English: Map of Tennessee counties. White border.
English: Map of Tennessee counties. White border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Niceley represents the Tennessee counties of Union, Hawkins, Jefferson, Hancock, Grainger, and Claiborne. In the video from the March 11, 2015 meeting of the Tennessee State Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee, Niceley makes it very clear that he does not support the new legislation and makes himself look much less than statesmanlike in the process. On more than one occasion, he makes asinine comments, asks asinine questions, and is condescending towards witnesses, including a representative from TWRA. For instance :
  • He is the first member of the committee to speak, besides the chair, when he asks, "How much does it cost to shoot a deer off the road these days?" Do what? He follows that up with, "How do you arrive at what it's worth? I mean is a young deer worth more than an old one? Is a buck worth more than a doe? How do you arrive at how much it's gonna cost to pay for this?" He missed the whole point of the legislation. The cost of the animal is not the point. The point is to deter poaching and protect the natural resource. Duh.
  • Nicely follows those questions up with a real gem saying that poachers should be sent to, and likely would be welcomed, in parts of Tennessee where the deer population is high. Really? Tennesseans would welcome these criminals into their neighborhoods? I doubt that, Senator.
  • Nicely also states that he does not understand why the punishment for poaching should be increased since there are so many deer? To me it seems he thinks poachers are performing a community service by helping to remove a public "nuisance" a.k.a. the deer. Is he trying to make the case that breaking the state's game laws by illegally killing animals is justified when animal populations are high? If that's his logic, it's like saying robbing banks is o.k. because the big, bad banks have so much money. Sounds kinda like something a Democrat would say, doesn't it?
  • Lastly, Nicely wants to know if he can exempt the counties in his district from these new stiffer, poaching restitution guidelines, laughing as if it's a joke. Wonder what other state laws he would like to exempt his counties from? Drunk driving laws? Campaign contribution laws? Speed limit laws? Ethics laws? What else, senator? The only joke I see here is his behavior in the hearing. The reason he wants his district exempted is because, as he says, "we don't have a (poaching) problem." So, no poaching occurs in his district? Having grown up in East Tennessee near Niceley's district, I doubt that, too, but more on that in a bit.
The fun doesn't end with this hearing. The legislation was rolled one week to March 18 where Niceley, still opposing the legislation, gives us more gems, including :
  • When addressing the TWRA representative, he says, "You (the TWRA) rarely catch anybody." He then states, in regards to his local game warden not catching poachers, "We laugh about him trying to catch 'em. He's never caught one." Senator, perhaps instead of laughing at the game warden, you could be a responsible citizen and help them. Once again, he acts much less than statesmanlike.
  • A week earlier, Niceley said there is no poaching problem in his district, but then in the 3/18/15 hearing he states, "I've lived on my farm 44 years. I bet there's been 2000 deer poached down River Road." Uh ..... hang on a minute, Senator. I thought you said there was no poaching problem in your district, but yet you just admitted to knowing of one. Which is it? ... Spoken like a true politician - say one thing one time and something entirely different later. Gotcha dude.
  • He also states his opinion that the bill is overkill, because, "we've got more deer than we need."
Please don't take my word for it. Go and watch the video of these committee hearings for yourself by clicking here. After clicking on the link, click on the "Video" tab to watch the videos from both hearings.

English: Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville,...
English: Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am happy to be able to report that despite Niceley's shenanigans, the legislation passed out of the committee. It's members voted as follows :
  • Voting against - Frank Niceley (R) (1st Vice Chair) and Paul Bailey (R)(2nd Vice Chair)
  • Voting for - Steve Southerland (R)(Chair), Mike Bell (R), Mark Green (R), Dolores Gresham (R), Lee Harris (D), Kerry Roberts (R), and Ken Yager (R) 
On behalf of ethical, true hunters all across the state, I want to thank all the members who voted in favor of the legislation and Sen. Jim Tracy for sponsoring it. I'd also like to point out that the only two voting against it were Republicans.

The thing I'm trying to figure out is why Niceley is so dead set against the legislation. I've bullet-pointed several of his reasons in the statements he made above. The interesting thing is that if you look at his bio on the Tennessee Legislature's website, it says that he's involved with the Tennessee Hunter Alliance. It also states that he was given the 2009 SAOVA (Sportsman and Animal Owners Voting Alliance Legislative Leader) Award. Those 2 things make it appear as if Niceley supports hunters and sportsmans' causes, but his opposition to the new poaching bill says otherwise. I don't know any hunter that does not hate poachers. So, why would a guy that has won a sportsman legislative leader award and apparently belongs to a hunting organization not support a law that would help deter poaching?

It's not because poaching is not a problem in his district, as he said on 3/11/15, because he contradicted that statement on 3/18 by stating that he's aware of a couple thousand deer being poached "down on River Road" during the last 40 years. Could it be that the senator does not really care about wildlife laws, hunting, or outdoors interests but has just "appeared" to in order to earn votes from hunters? Or, is there something more to it than that? One might wonder if poaching is an acceptable activity is his district and that explains his lack of support for the bill, but being from East Tennessee myself, I would find that one hard to believe.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I guess the thing that really irks me about Niceley dismissing this legislation and treating it as a joke is his inference that the state does not need to crackdown on poaching, because there are just so many deer in Tennessee that they've become a nuisance. Well, based on that reasoning, can we assume that Niceley, a Republican, thinks illegal immigration is justified, also, since U.S. employers say they need the cheap, unskilled labor in order to compete in the marketplace? 

Or, let's take it a step further. Niceley also voices his objection to the new legislation because the current anti-poaching laws on the books haven't fixed the problem. Does this mean he would also oppose any new drunk driving legislation that increases the penalties for that offense because the current laws haven't fixed the problem? Would he be opposed to stiffer penalties for murder since despite our current laws people just keep killing each other?

None of Niceley's objections to the new poaching legislation make any sense nor are they valid. Hunters and non-hunters alike can agree that the penalties for the illegal killing of animals should be stiff enough to be a deterrent to such crimes. Why Niceley cannot is beyond me. It really makes me wonder what his game is and why he wants this bill killed.

On my "About" page, I tell about how I came to name this blog The 2nd Chance Sheepdog. I also briefly discuss the theory of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. I give a few examples of who might make up each of these 3 groups. In regards to poaching, the illegally killed animals are the sheep. The poachers are the wolves, and the sheepdogs include wildlife officers, ethical hunters, and others. I think you could also place politicians, like Niceley, who choose to turn a blind eye to poaching into the wolf category.

The Sheepdog has no tolerance for poachers and wolves whether they be out in the woods and fields or in the state legislature. It is my opinion that since Niceley does not think it is a priority to protect the state's wildlife resources from poaching, it is time for him to retire to his 6 counties. Then, perhaps his constituents will send someone else to Nashville who will protect the states wildlife resources so that all Tennesseans can enjoy them in whatever legal fashion they choose.

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