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Published: Sunday, 10/7/2012

Public recruited for poacher patrol

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Thousands of hunters in Ohio and Michigan are headed for the fields, woods, and marshes with the arrival of the fall waterfowl and archery seasons. The overwhelming majority of those hunters will play by the book, follow the rules, and demonstrate knowledge of and a respect for the outdoors around them.

Bullet point: They understand the responsibilities that accompany the privilege of hunting.

For the few outdoors crooks that choose to disregard the laws that govern the sport — be advised that everyone is watching.

Both Ohio and Michigan have very user-friendly systems in place that provide ordinary citizens the opportunity to be part of the posse that keeps the real lawmen hot on the trail of the wildlife thieves.

Ohio’s “Turn In a Poacher” program (TIP) is one of the oldest in the nation, getting its start in 1982, and it encourages individuals to use a hotline to report wildlife violations. The number is an easy one to remember: 1-800-POACHER (800-762-2437), and callers, who have the option to remain anonymous, are eligible to receive cash rewards for turning in the miscreants and scofflaws.

The TIP program is administered by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, while the payment of rewards is handled by a private, nonprofit corporation. Ken Fitz, the acting executive administrator for law enforcement with the Division of Wildlife, said the TIP program plays a vital role in assisting the state’s wildlife officers.

“TIP has been around a long time, and it’s been very effective,” Fitz said.

In the past, TIP callers sometimes were required to leave messages, creating a potential time lag in relaying the information to law enforcement, but Ohio now uses a call center to field the complaints, providing operators to respond to the calls on a 24/7/365 basis.

“When you call, no matter the hour or the day, someone is going to answer that call,” Fitz said. “Somebody will answer the phone, take the information, and send it directly to the officer. That’s an improvement over what we were able to do before.”

Basic trespassing calls should be made to the nearest sheriff’s office, Fitz said, but those agencies are usually in very close communication with the wildlife officers out in the field.

“So if individuals are hunting on private property without permission, then that call can go to the TIP line, or directly to the county wildlife officer. The caller can also reach their county wildlife officer via the sheriff’s dispatcher, who can usually connect with the officer by radio. There are several options, but the key is to get the information to law enforcement as fast as possible.”

Fitz stressed the importance of using the hotline or reporting violations on the Internet at ohiotip.com.

“The information we get from the people around the state is a big help,” Fitz said. “We depend on the public a lot. Ohio is a big state, and there’s just one officer per county.”

In Michigan, the mechanism for turning in potential wildlife law breakers is called “Report All Poaching” or RAP. The toll free hotline is 1-800-292-7800.

As is the case in Ohio, citizens reporting poaching or other wildlife violations are eligible for rewards if the information provided leads to the arrest and conviction of the alleged violators.

Michigan, like Ohio, publishes a regular list of the more interesting arrests made by its wildlife officers, and many of the cases had their start with a call to the “RAP” line.

Recently in the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula, a RAP complaint detailed how a couple subjects were illegally snagging fish on the Carp River. A pair of MDNR conservation officers went to the scene and found two different groups snagging and keeping foul-hooked fish.

In the southwestern part of the state, a RAP report came in earlier this year on individuals spotlighting and shooting deer close to midnight. With sound information provided by the caller, the conservation officer got a good description of the vehicle involved in the incident, and the two subjects. They were apprehended a short time later, hiding in a ditch with an illegally-taken antlerless deer.

A recent call to Ohio’s “TIP” line provided a curious candid camera moment. A landowner turned over a trail camera he had found on his property, and the SD card inside the camera contained a video of a man bragging about how he had shot multiple white-tailed bucks, in violation of Ohio hunting laws. The man initially denied everything, but with video in hand, wildlife officers got a search warrant and found significant amounts of evidence, including two large bucks. The violator got the express lane in court, and owes around $7,000 in restitution for the two bucks, which were confiscated.

Another recent “TIP” call allowed wildlife officers to snag 16 eastern Ohio residents who were snagging saugeyes at the Seneca Lake spillway. They were also keeping fish over the limit, and littering the waterway.

After the violators received fines, court costs and restitution of more than $5,000 plus jail time, Tom Donnelly, ODNR law enforcement supervisor for southeast Ohio, credited his citizen posse for helping the case come together.

“We want to thank those concerned sportsmen who called the 1-800-POACHER hotline to report these violations,” he said.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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