Lacey Act: What Every Hunter Should Know About the Wildlife Protection Statute

by Clayton Edwards

The Lacey Act was passed in 1900 and was the first federal law set forth to protect wildlife. The law allows for civil and criminal penalties for a wide range of violations. It centers not only on poaching but also on the transport of illegally harvested wildlife. Also, the law regulates the transportation of certain plants and the introduction of non-native and invasive species of plants and animals.

However, you don’t have to be a poacher or someone who deals in black market sales of plans and animals to land yourself a Lacey Act violation. It is easier than you would think to come up against federal charges for seemingly minor infractions. Let’s look at a few of the most common things that could land otherwise ethical hunters in hot water.

Accidental Lacey Act Violations

Remember, ignorance of the law isn’t a defense in federal court. Several people who find themselves in violations of the Lacey Act didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong.

Whether you’ve been hunting every season for as long as you can remember or you’re one of the thousands of new hunters, knowing the law is important.

When is the Lacey Act Applicable?

According to Christina M. Meister, a public relations specialist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “The Lacey Act is triggered when a violation of state law occurs and the animal is transported across state lines.”

For instance, the most common violation of this law is a poacher killing an animal illegally then transporting it across state lines. Poaching is a state crime. Transportation makes it federal. Meister adds, “A violation also occurs on federal land when the animal is transported from the site of the violation, or a guide service is involved in a violation of state or federal laws during a hunt.”

So, if you illegally harvest game on federal land or a Native American Reservation and move the game off the land, it’s a violation of the act. Furthermore, you can violate the act by hunting with an unlicensed outfitter. This is only if you’re in a state that requires outfitters to be licensed, though.

In short, the Lacey Act comes into play when transporting illegally harvested game or when hunting with unlicensed outfitters. It starts with a state-level infraction and becomes federal only when crossing state lines.

The law also provides for several violations not related to hunting but we will focus on the ones that affect hunters.

We’re assuming that you’re all law-abiding and ethical hunters. So, we’ll look at some ways that you can run afoul of the feds without poaching or dealing with shady outfitters.

Unlawful Party Hunting

Picture this scenario. You’re hunting with a buddy out of state. You both have the proper licenses and tags. You fill your tag early in the day but your partner can’t seem to get off a shot. We’ll say it’s buck fever. So, you step in and take the shot for him and harvest a buck. You then tag that buck with your partner’s tag and take the meat home.

No big deal, right? Both bucks are tagged and legal, right? Wrong. Each hunter is responsible for filling their own tag. Using someone else’s tag for your own kill is illegal. When you take those harvested animals back home, it becomes federal.

TV host Christopher Brackett landed found himself in violation of the Lacey Act in 2013 when he used his cameraman’s tag after killing his second buck of the day.

Hunting With Unlicensed Hunters

Let’s look at another scenario. You and your buddy are just across the state line hunting. You know that all of your paperwork is in line. You just assume that your hunting partner has his in order as well. You both go out, fill your tags, put the animals in the truck, and head home.

Come to find out, your buddy didn’t have a tag for the animal he harvested. You’ve just committed a federal crime. Your buddy killed that animal illegally. When you crossed the state line, you violated the Lacey Act. There’s a good chance the government will now seize your truck. You’re also probably looking at a fine and either probation or jail time.

What Can You Do to Avoid Violating the Lacey Act?

The Lacey Act is vast and there are several ways to violate it. The best way to avoid running afoul of this law is to do your due diligence.

Look into the laws in the area you plan to hunt. Check any transportation laws between your home and hunting spot. Make sure your hunting partners have their paperwork in order. Ask to see the license of any outfitter you plan to hunt with. These simple things could be the difference between a good hunting trip and federal charges.