Our point of view

Jeff HagenerTogether, we can stop poachers

O?ver the years, hunters in Montana have helped FWP restore elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and other game animals. Now they and others interested in conservation can help us protect that wildlife from poachers.
Poaching is a growing problem, one that occurs statewide and year-round. Poachers take some of Montana’s biggest and best game specimens, robbing law-abiding citizens of opportunities to see and legally harvest those animals.

Often the culprits make big money from their illegal activities. A record-book deer or elk mount can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. And some wealthy individuals will pay great sums of money to be illegally guided to trophy animals.

FWP game wardens have broken several major poaching rings in recent years. But with just 70 wardens each covering an average of 2,000 square miles (about the size of Delaware), they can’t put a major dent in poaching without help.

Fortunately, there’s a way for people to assist game wardens. Through the department’s TIP-MONT Program, concerned individuals can report anyone they suspect of hunting illegally. Since the program began in 1985, FWP has received thousands of calls, many resulting in wardens catching and judges convicting poachers.

One of the biggest cases in recent years was the result of a TIP-MONT call. A Montana hunter was on a plane flying back to Bozeman when he overheard two men from Tennessee talking about their bull elk hunt in Montana later that week. He knew the elk season was closed. The hunters were also talking about using landowner “ranch tags,” which don’t exist in this state. The alert Montanan called TIP-MONT the moment he stepped off the plane. Wardens followed up and eventually caught an unlicensed outfitter near Gardiner, who later pled guilty to two felony violations of the Lacey Act (which makes transporting illegally taken wildlife across state lines a federal crime).

Wardens and federal investigators have so far seized 30 elk heads and racks as part of the investigation. In 2006, a judge sentenced the unlicensed outfitter to a year in federal prison, ordered him to pay $50,000 in restitution for illegally killed elk and deer, and revoked his hunting privileges for life.

One reason TIP-MONT works so well is that callers may remain anonymous. What’s more, if a tip results in a conviction, the caller is eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Each year TIP-MONT gives rewards totaling $15,000 to $20,000, money that mostly comes from hunting license fees.

A five-member board, whose members are appointed by the FWP director, oversees the workings of TIP-MONT. The program’s coordinator and temporary employees hired during the hunting season take the calls. They forward the information to the warden nearest the reported infraction. The Montana Highway Patrol Dispatch Center helps field calls during off-hours.

TIP-MONT receives roughly 1,300 calls each year, but we’d like to see that number increase. To help spread the word about poaching and encourage people to call TIP-MONT, the department is creating posters, TV and radio reports, website information, and an educational trailer that will appear at fairs and other events.

We’re making some headway against poaching. But we can do much more if we all work together to fight this problem. If you see or learn about any illegal or suspicious hunting activity, please call
1-800-TIP-MONT.Bear bullet


M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks