Texas’ Operation Game Thief vital to curbing poaching, other offenses

0
478
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Much to the chagrin of wildlife enforcement officers, there is a strong criminal element that continues to do things that boggle the mind. Whether they do it out of spite or because they don’t know better, those who brazenly break wildlife laws continue to soil the reputation of the law-abiding hunter and angler.

However, thanks in large part to the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, anti-poaching programs have sprung up in every state in the past three decades and it’s easier than ever for the average person to help stamp out this kind of behavior.

The NMDFG started Operation Game Thief in 1977 as a way to stem the poaching tide in the state, which officials estimated meant the loss of more than 30,000 deer annually to illegal means and methods. The program was modeled after Crime Stoppers, which began in 1976 in Albuquerque, N.M., and has achieved unprecedented success. OGT offers rewards like the Crime Stoppers program. If a lawbreaker is arrested or issued a citation on the basis of information provided by an anonymous caller, a reward is authorized.

OGT operations and other anti-poaching programs in each state have hotlines that are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some states also have an online form anonymous tippers can fill out. And in Texas, if you don’t wish to give your name when calling in, you will be assigned a code number.

Technology also has provided more critical links to law enforcement officials, and tipsters in Texas can use the Tip411 system to text information via smartphone in regards to those breaking the law. The anonymous system encrypts a cellphone number and identifying information, not revealing any data about the origin of the text message, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In most cases, states will quantify the reward amount based on the severity of the crime: New Mexico rewards are $750 for cases involving elk and bighorn sheep; $500 for deer and oryx; $350 for antelope; and $250 for turkey, bear, cougar, javelina, ibex, barbary sheep, endangered species, small game, fish, raptors and furbearers.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

If an animal is deemed a trophy based on Safari Club International measurements, poachers can face stiffer monetary penalties and possible jail time, which is a big improvement over penalties that had been assessed in the past in many states.

During the life of OGT in Texas, more than 28,000 calls have been received on wildlife violations, more than $1,180,000 in fines have been assessed and more than $200,000 in rewards have been doled out. Rewards of as much as $1,000 may be paid out in Texas upon the conviction of someone committing a heinous wildlife crime.

OGT, adopted in Texas in 1981, is crucial to stopping many wildlife violations. Anyone who witnesses something illegal – or even thinks it may be illegal – should call the toll-free hotline, 1-800-792-GAME, or send in a text with as much detailed information as possible as soon as they can after witnessing or hearing about anything they may deem a wildlife violation. OGT personnel have said that in the past many people often will wait until a Monday or Tuesday after seeing a violation over the weekend to report an incident, which only makes it harder to track down information on leads that are provided.

The key to the program is that it provides a vital link between the public and what certainly is a stretched net of game wardens. In some Rolling Plains and Panhandle areas there is only one warden for every two counties, which makes it almost impossible to track certain crimes that undoubtedly happen every year. And while game violations are the primary target of the program, the public is advised to call in other things they think may be violations, including environmental crimes, crime such as arson in state parks and even the uprooting of artifacts.

Rewards also can be paid out upon conviction for most statutes that game wardens – who are certified peace officers – can enforce. Those include common violations such as boating while intoxicated, criminal trespass and even assault.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here