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Josh and Sarah Bowmar Released Of Hunting Charges In Nebraska And Charged With Conspiracy To The Lacey Act, What You Need to Know

Bowhunters and social media personalities Josh and Sarah Bowmar learned the hard way that the adage, “ignorance is bliss,” is unequivocally false. After being embroiled in an investigation for nine years, the married couple was recently cleared of all baiting and poaching charges against them related to hunts they conducted with a Nebraska outfitter. But, they did plead guilty to one misdemeanor, conspiracy to the Lacey Act, a federal law of which they had no prior knowledge, but one with serious ramifications. Here’s what they want other hunters to know to avoid their mistakes with the Lacey Act or others like it.

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The Investigation

In 2015, the couple traveled to Nebraska intending to hunt mule deer which are not found in Ohio, where they lived at the time. They had hired Hidden Hills Outfitters of Broken Bow to guide them through these outfitted hunts. The company came highly recommended by others in the hunting community. Unfortunately, Sarah and Josh had no idea this outfitter was suspected of illegal poaching tactics, such as hunting at night with spotlights, hunting over bait, shooting deer without proper tags, and hunting with prohibited weapons by the Nebraska Fish and Game Association. 

Because the Bowmars’ hunting trips with this outfitter occurred between 2015 and 2017, which was in the middle of Fish and Game’s multi-year sting operation, they became caught up with 33 other Hidden Hills clients, even though they never hunted with any of those clients and only bow hunted themselves.

Josh states, “Yes, this has been a classic case of ‘guilt by association’—we absolutely were not doing the things that some of the outfitter’s other clients were—but that doesn’t mean that we did nothing wrong and that we’re not taking accountability for our missteps.” He continues, “In the end, we believe the verdict is truthful to what happened nine years ago. All baiting and poaching charges against us were fully dismissed. In fact, all hunting violations against us were dropped. We did plead guilty to a conspiracy charge with the Lacey Act, which we felt was fair and true and take responsibility for.”

The Lacey Act

Enacted in 1900 and championed by its namesake, Congressman John Lacey, the Lacey Act is one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in the United States. It was initially passed to combat the overhunting of game birds but is now much more extensive. For example, it was amended to include amphibians, reptiles, and all fish and wildlife covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In 2008, Congress passed another amendment to the Lacey Act that banned trading illegally sourced plants or plant products, including timber, wood, and paper.

Today, the Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to “import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law whether in interstate or foreign commerce. All plants or animals taken in violation of the Act are subject to forfeiture as well as all vessels, vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment used in the process.”

The Bowmars were in violation of the Lacey Act because they’d planned to take their hunt, consisting of two deer and a turkey, back to Ohio. Sarah said, “Josh has hunted his whole life, and I also have my hunting license and have taken a hunter’s safety course, and neither of us had ever heard of the Lacey Act. That’s not an excuse, we accept accountability for our ignorance here, but the average hunter either doesn’t know about it or doesn’t fully understand the ramifications. We hope to educate on the Lacey Act to help other hunters avoid this situation in the future.”

The Bowmars’ ignorance, in this case, resulted in three years of probation, $133,000 in fines, and they can’t hunt in the state of Nebraska for three years – and that’s just for being charged with one count of violating the Lacey Act. Bowmar’s lawyer, G. Kline Preston, has stated that the Lacey Act was “abusive” and “draconian” and that it excessively punished hunters for minor infractions for “actions which really amount to the equivalent of a speeding ticket.”

What Hunters Should Know

To avoid making the same mistake, the Bowmars advise hunters to familiarize themselves with the laws of each state they plan to hunt before they go. In addition, if you are using an outfitter, as the Bowmars did, you must also ensure they are properly licensed if the state requires this. 

What’s more, don’t rely on recommendations alone, do your due diligence when researching outfitters and trust your gut if something seems off. Josh states, “We should have paid more attention to what was going on with other clients at that outfitter, and for that, we rightfully plead guilty to conspiracy against the Lacey Act. But it doesn’t mean we committed any acts of ill will; we didn’t. It’s simply that we hunted with someone we should have known more about and should have known better about taking our hunt across state lines after.”

And remember, an honest mistake carries the same penalties as intentionally violating laws like the Lacey Act.

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