A unusual law in Utah has created some controversy between a man who turned in a suspected poacher and the state.
In an effort to help conservation officers cover more ground and catch more poachers, legislators of Utah enlisted the help of ordinary hunters.
The reward for turning in a guilty poacher; a free tag for the unit and animal that was poached. Pretty smart for a government idea.
Each year the state issues around a dozen licenses free of charge to hunters who provide tips that help nail poachers. In most cases the process is fairly cut and dry. Not so in the case of Get Gephart.
Last fall, Gephart was hunting in a good elk unit when he noticed something fishy going down. A hunter in blaze orange touched one off in the mountain landscape and the shot was heard round the valley. Gephart saw the trophy bull elk fall and then unexpectedly the shooter walked away from the bull and took off his hunter orange vest.
Suspecting a breach of law, and hoping to land an elk tag in the quality unit, Gephart soon got on the phone with conservation officers and offered his information. Not only did he offer information, but he even assisted the search for a full half day.
Eventually the poacher was nabbed, but only after self-reporting himself to authorities. Gephart was no doubt feeling good about his honorable effort and the future free tag he assumed he would get.
Here is where things went south for Get.
Rather than charge the suspect with poaching, which is a felony, officers charged him with "unlawful taking", which is a misdemeanor. Because the suspect actually self-reported, he was cut some slack for "doing the right thing."
When the suspect became a unlawful taker, rather than a poacher, Get Gephart was no longer in the running for a reward.
The reason; the wording in the law:
"Any person who provides information leading to another person's successful prosecution under Section 23-20-4 for wanton destruction of a bull moose, desert bighorn ram, rocky mountain bighorn ram, rocky mountain goat, bison, bull elk, buck deer or buck pronghorn within any once-in-a-lifetime or limited entry area may receive a permit from the division to hunt the same species on the same once-in-a-lifetime or limited entry area where the violation occurred, except as provided in Subsection (3)."
In the eyes of the Utah state legislature "unlawful taking" does not correspond with wanton destruction. What did that mean for Get? He and his hunting partner were offered $1,000 for their information and their effort.
Get has expressed that he doesn't want the money, but would rather have the tag. Utah authorities, though sympathetic with Gephart's point of view, have said their hands are tied and cannot do anything else for him. Because the man was not charged with poaching they simply can't issue a free tag.
What does this whole saga show us? The legalistic world we are living in.
The fact of the matter is when the gentleman became an "illegal taker" rather than a "poacher", Gephart was doomed to lose his opportunity. The wording changes everything to lawyers and law.
Get had done the right thing, but his information didn't lead to an arrest, and he missed the reward he was hoping for. The shooter on the other hand had done the wrong thing, repented, and eventually was treated with leniency. Both men probably got a fair deal.
In the end, I wish Utah could give Gephart a free license as it really seems like he tried to help. It seems fair enough. However if it played out like that, every Tom, Dick, and Harry would be thinking they should get a free tag every tip they offered, even if it wasn't poaching.
At some point life is not fair, even if the law is trying to be.