Some poaching cases would be easier for Fish and Game to make if citizens would give officers a little more than the tip.
I recently completed a wildlife violation case that was started with a tip received from an anonymous caller who refused to leave a name or phone number, and did not want to be contacted again. As this case has come to a close, citations issued and court proceedings held, I have been reminded of how much easier it would have been if only I could have contacted the witness who wished to remain anonymous.
Fish and Game is thankful for any and all information regarding violations, even if they are from an anonymous source. However, the problem with an anonymous source is that almost every investigation reveals questions that could be so easily answered by the witness if they could be contacted. Instead it causes our investigation to either come to a halt or at least be delayed unnecessarily.
When a person calls me directly with information regarding a violation, I always ask for a name and number at which I can reach them. I assure them that I will only contact them when and if they agree, and that I will be the only person who will know their identity. I always discuss options for working the case with the witness to keep their identity hidden and not raise suspicion about whether or not they were the person who called me.
I have stopped investigations and on some I have never proceeded at all because I did not see any way to work the case without placing the witness in a vulnerable position. My goal is two-sided. I want to work the case effectively and see that the violator is caught, but more importantly I want to protect the witness who was ethical and caring enough to call me.
There is nothing more critical to a conservation officer than the trust of the people. If I were to reveal the identity of someone who had requested that I not, then that word would travel like wildfire and nobody would trust me again. I cannot effectively do this job without the trust of the public, and their confidence that they can come to me and I will treat them right.
If you have information about a violation, and the only way you feel comfortable is to call anonymously and leave no name or number, we will do our best to deal with it. However, please understand that it is extremely difficult to start and finish a case based on a short bit of information from someone that I can never contact again.
Frequently I get phone calls similar to, I'm not telling you who this is but JoeBob just shot a deer and you should go get him because Im sick of him poaching. I then talk to JoeBob but I dont have any idea where he put the deer, where he killed the deer, who was with him or any other details. Of course, JoeBob
denies killing the deer, and I am left knowing that I cant do much else. I also know that the person who called me anonymously now thinks Im stupid or lazy because I didnt catch JoeBob. Its difficult to make a case if I am not able to ask a few questions.
If you are willing to provide some information on a case, please consider leaving your name and number and ways that you can be contacted. Stress that you want this information to remain confidential and it will. It just gives the officer some way to ask questions and discuss options with the witness.
Citizens Against Poaching can be reached at 1-800-632-5999. Callers can be guaranteed anonymity, even through the process of collecting a reward.
Mark Rhodes is a Senior Conservation Officer stationed in Orofino. He has worked for IDFG since 1996.