- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Conservation agents say the $203 penalty that a Missouri man paid for killing a protected black bear isn’t much of a deterrent, but state lawmakers haven’t had much of an appetite for giving wildlife penalties more teeth.

Chris Keown, 40, of House Springs, shot the bear with a muzzle-loading rifle around May 2 in a heavily wooded area near his home southwest of St. Louis, authorities said. He pleaded guilty to a citation from a conservation agent and paid the fine and fees, the Springfield News-Leader reported (https://sgfnow.co/1sEvazt ).

“I’m not going to disrespect the court or the General Assembly,” said Larry Yamnitz, protection division chief with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “But that’s the way it’s set up in Missouri. The agents do their job, delivering the facts.”

A bill filed in the recent legislative session by Rep. Linda Black, a Park Hills Republican, would have required poachers to make hefty restitution payments. The proposed additional fine for someone who illegally kills an elk or black bear would have been $3,500.

The measure was never brought up for a vote, with House Agriculture Policy Chairman Jay Houghton citing a lack of support for it among some committee members.

Earlier this month, Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, used the incident to call for stronger penalties against poachers.

“To dissuade poachers from stealing our fish and wildlife resources, Missouri must adopt significantly stronger penalties for poaching,” he said.

Keown is a convicted felon who has had previous run-ins with game officials, Yamnitz said. He wasn’t charged with illegally possessing a firearm because antique muzzle loaders aren’t classified as firearms under federal law.

By pleading guilty to the citation, Keown could not also be prosecuted criminally, Yamnitz said.

Keown’s son persuaded him to talk with game officials about killing the bear, he said.

“We recovered the head and hide, which had been dumped in a creek, and we found the bear’s meat and paws in somebody’s refrigerator,” Yamnitz said. “Our agents did their job.”

Keown was cited for pursuing, taking, killing, possessing or disposing of wildlife, a misdemeanor. If he would have fought the ticket, he could have faced fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

He also can get his gun back.

“We don’t have a criminal forfeiture law for property involved in wildlife cases,” Yamnitz said.

The News-Leader was unable to reach Keown for a comment. Keown does not have a listed home telephone number and could not be reached Monday by The Associated Press.


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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