A recent news item referred to something I believe West Virginia needs.
The article focused on an entity called the Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers. Created in December 2018, its stated aim is to “increase public awareness of the impact of illegal harvesting of fish and wildlife populations.”
It’s not a governmental agency; instead, it’s a non-profit organization funded by corporate, individual and public donations. It uses the money to spread the idea that illegal hunting and fishing are crimes akin to theft and vandalism.
Not only that, it pays out cash rewards to people who report hunting and fishing violations to the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
Tips can be communicated via phone, email or texts to Natural Resources Police dispatchers, who then alert the nearest patrol officer.
Tipsters are asked to give the violators’ name, if known; address, if known; vehicle description; and license plate number, if observed. Tipsters’ identities are guaranteed to be kept confidential.
On its website, the Maryland NRP maintains a specific phone number (a cell phone, that can also receive text messages), an email address, and an online link where information can be given. Heck, there’s even an app for people’s cell phones.
The more I read about the organization, the more I become convinced that West Virginia would benefit from something similar.
All too often, people who see someone poaching game out of season, exceeding creel or bag limits, trespassing on private property, hunting from roads, etc., hesitate to report the violator.
I believe there are a couple of reasons for this.
First, all too many West Virginians refuse to view fish and wildlife crimes as true crimes. The attitudes, “Oh, what the heck? It’s only a few fish,” or “It’s only a few squirrels” are more widespread than most of us would like to believe.
That’s where a West Virginia Wildlife Crime Stoppers organization could help. By funding and producing public service announcements, billboards, newspaper ads and other public-relations outreach efforts, its members could impress upon the public that poachers and violators are stealing something that belongs to all West Virginians.
In the Mountain State, fish and wildlife belong to all of us, and are maintained by the Division of Natural Resources as a public trust. People who have the mindset, “Hey! That guy’s stealing those trout from me!” are far more likely to turn in a violator than someone who thinks, “Who cares? The state will stock more.”
Education works. In just a single generation, hunter-education efforts dramatically reduced the number of accidental shootings that take place during hunting seasons.
It’s simply a matter of getting the message across, and doing it in a way people can relate to. With its name alone, a Wildlife Crime Stoppers organization would help to impress upon people that fish and wildlife violations are crimes, doggone it!
Second, the organization’s ability to pay substantial rewards to witnesses would, I believe, make a tremendous difference. A lot of West Virginians are hurting financially, and the ability to earn $500 or $1,000 simply by picking up a phone or sending a text message would help overcome any reluctance toward becoming an informant.
Will an organization like Wildlife Crime Stoppers ever get started in the Mountain State? I hope so.
If some smart, determined and well-connected people take up the cause, they could make it work. West Virginia’s people, its fish and its wildlife deserve no less.