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Know the West

Bad hunters meet good old boys

  In Montana, out-of-towners pay a higher price for their hunting and fishing violations, even though locals commit most of the wildlife crimes. Non-residents who illegally killed fish or other wildlife in 1994 spent three times as long in jail as Montanans, according to an Associated Press analysis. They also lost their licenses for an average of four months longer.

"There's a small-town atmosphere (in Montana) where everyone knows everyone else," game warden Tom Bivins told the Billings Gazette. "For some justices of the peace, it's easier to make examples out of someone they don't know."

Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources used to find similar discrepancies in rulings by elected judges, says Robert Elswood, chief of law enforcement for the wildlife division. But Utah's court system changed several years ago, he says, and now wildlife violation cases decided by appointed judges and penalties are more consistent. Elswood adds that states such as Utah and Colorado have set fines for specific hunting and fishing violations. Because violators pay a fine instead of posting bond, judges exercise less control over penalty assessments.

- Jenny Emery