CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire's cash-strapped and self-funded Fish and Game Department is welcoming the return of a nonprofit group that will raise money and awareness to encourage people to report hunting and fishing violations.
Lt. Wayne Saunders, head of the state's Operation Game Thief program, said its nonprofit partner was dissolved back in 2001 as it became harder to replace departing members, all of them volunteers. It was turned over to the department's Law Enforcement Division, which has maintained limited funds and the toll-free tip line since then.
But department officials realized through the years that they needed more help from sportsmen and women who care about wildlife and want to stop illegal wildlife activity. They point to states like Maine, which have done a good job of raising money through a nonprofit wing to help reward tips on wildlife violations.
Saunders said Wednesday his department has no budget for Operation Game Thief's marketing and advertising and no money to pay tipsters. So the nonprofit, which will have a seven-member board to decide on those issues, will be an asset.
"They can reach out to their peers," Saunders said.
Most of the department's revenue comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and boat, snowmobile and ATV registrations. Saunders said paying for information through the state is difficult. The last time the department did so was several years ago, in a case involving a moose. The $500 reward had to be paid in cash, and it required two conservation officers to deliver it.
"It took forever. There were a bunch of hoops to jump through," Saunders said.
Despite that, the state has nearly doubled the number of wildlife violation reports from last year in hearing from hunters, fishermen, hikers and kayakers, Saunders said. A lot of phone calls to the state's information line come during hunting season.
Saunders said a financial incentive might have resulted in more information in an investigation into the death of whitetail deer in the Lancaster area several years ago. Officers recovered six carcasses and ended up making arrests based on help from tips.
"There are a whole new generation of hunters out there that really don't know what Operation Game Thief is," said board member David Bryant. "We want people to know that we are here and we care about our natural resources."
Maine's nonprofit has been in existence since 1989. "We've received hundreds and hundreds of tips, and we've paid out thousands and thousands of dollars," said Greg Sirpis, chairman of the board. The program has been successful because it's built on confidentiality and anonymity, he said.
About half of the people who report a violation aren't interested in a reward; they want the money to be donated back to the program," Sirpis said.
"They care about the ethics, about the outdoors and the outdoors lifestyle," he said.