Minnesota has state and national organizations devoted to the preservation of ducks, pheasants, grouse, deer, bear, turkeys, woodcock, walleyes, bass and muskies, to name just some. Minnesota also has an organization devoted to catching people who don't respect the laws governing how fish and game are taken.
Turn in Poachers has been around since 1981, a sad reminder that there's more than just one bad apple in every bunch. For every poaching violation reported, many others go undetected. Banding together to battle the problem is all fair-minded sportsmen can do.
Early next year Brainerd will be home to the 11th chapter in the statewide TIP organization.
"We hope to get a lot of good members," said Jamie Dietman, 33, the new chapter's first president. "Our mission is to enhance and protect the resources of Minnesota. People who shoot a deer and take just the rack, or who shoot 10 deer in a year, those are things I really don't like."
Unfortunately it happens every year. Patty Holt, TIP coordinator for the DNR, said the number of TIP calls referred to conservation officers for investigation has remained "pretty consistent" over the past 24 years. In an average year officers are sent out 720 times, though that number hit an all-time high of 1,050 in 1991. A year later brought the record for the most arrests made from TIP calls; 428. For comparison, in 2004 officers investigated 1,006 calls and made 155 arrests.
Al Thomas, TIP's executive director, described those numbers as "minuscule" when contrasted with the amount of paching that goes on each year in Minnesota.
"The calls have gone up since the Legislature enacted the gross overlimits law, and we're paying out more awards. We're getting more publicity because, unfortunately, poaching continues to go on."
Thomas became TIP's executive director in February. He said a Brainerd chapter was needed by the organization because of all the hunting and fishing -- and presumably poaching -- that goes on in the area. The next closest chapters are in Browerville, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Detroit Lakes.
In most states TIP organizations are funded by the state. Not in Minnesota. Calls to TIP are handled by a DNR office in Thief River Falls and investigations are handled by DNR conservation officers, but funds for the program are raised solely by donations at annual TIP banquets.
Brainerd's first TIP banquet will take place early next year, probably in February, Dietman said.
In addition to maintaining the poaching hotline, TIP also provides money to people whose tips lead to arrests. In 2004 more than $8,000 was paid out. Another $25,000 goes to printing books that each year are given to kids in firearms safety classes. TIP helps the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association sponsor its annual ethical hunter award, pays for the mounting on the "Wall of Shame" of poached deer heads, and helps sponsor the annual DNR conservation officer of the year award.
Dietman said persons interested in joining the local TIP chapter should attend next year's first banquet.
"Come and see what we're all about," Dietman said. "Learn what you can do by getting involved."
Visibility is the key to stopping poaching. Fear that they're being watched is the only thing that will stop a poacher from poaching. More eyes in the field means more protection for Minnesota's game and fish.
To contact TIP, phone (800) 652-9093.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862
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