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The illegal shooting, trapping, or taking of game or fish from private or public property.
The poaching of game and fish was made a crime in England in the seventeenth century, as aristocratic landowners sought to preserve their shooting and property rights. Poor peasants did most of the poaching to supplement their diets with meat and fish.
In the United States, poaching was not considered a serious problem meriting legal measures before the twentieth century, because vast expanses of undeveloped land contained abundant sources of fish and game. The increased cultivation of land and the growth of towns and cities reduced wildlife habitats in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, the U.S. conservation movement arose with an emphasis on preserving wildlife and managing the fish and game populations. Wildlife preserves and state and national parks were created as havens for wild animals, many of which were threatened with extinction.
Because of these changing circumstances, restrictions were placed on hunting and fishing. State game and fish laws now require persons to purchase licenses to hunt and fish. The terms of these licenses limit the kind and number of animals or fish that may be taken and restrict hunting and fishing to designated times of the year, popularly referred to as hunting and fishing seasons.
Therefore, persons who fail to purchase a license, as well as those who violate the terms of their licenses, commit acts of poaching. Most poaching in the United States is done for sport or commercial profit. Rare and endangered species, which are protected by state and federal law, are often the targets of poachers.
Poaching laws are enforced by game wardens, who patrol state and national parks and respond to violations on private property. Poachers are subject to criminal laws, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Penalties may include steep fines, jail sentences, the Forfeiture of any poached game or fish, the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for several years, and the forfeiture of hunting or fishing equipment, boats, and vehicles used in the poaching.