Conservation and the Courts: Barriers to Wildlife Law Enforcement in Georgia

In Georgia, where this study was conducted, the size of the fine a violator pays for a wildlife citation is dependent on the county and the specific court in which he or she is sentenced. A highly politicized court system and complex intergovernmental relationships have led to uneven enforcement of game and fish laws in the state. This lack of uniform enforcement reduces the deterrent effect of the work of conservation rangers. Data from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and interviews with stakeholders in the system confirm greatly enhanced power in local courts, where convictions and fines are often a matter of politics and personal opinion rather than law. Even the perpetrator's chances of getting caught are linked to the ability of the conservation ranger to effectively perform the work due to the politics that surround enforcement of hunting and fishing laws. The intricacies of the intergovernmental relationships among the entities responsible for enforcement of wildlife laws are more like a “crazy quilt” than the orderliness that is demonstrated in many other intergovernmental relationships, primarily because of the high degree of local control within the context of state and federal laws. The result is uneven enforcement of state laws due to greatly enhanced local power that flows primarily to probate and state court judges, some of whom play politics with their judgments.

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