SD TIPS Program Aimed at Poachers, Not Hunters
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The start of hunting season for various South Dakota game is just days away, and residents are being reminded about a hotline to call if they observe any illegal hunting, fishing or trapping activity.
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officer Joe Keeton said last year's number of arrests through the "Turn in Poachers" - or "TIPS" - hotline was the highest in program history. He said while the program offers rewards, many people call because they can't live with their conscience if they don't.
"They're calling it in because it's the right thing to do, not because they want a reward,” Keeton said. “But we still really push those rewards to people because we want to get that message out there that it protects our wildlife resources."
Funds distributed by South Dakota's TIPS program are donated through a nonprofit called Wildlife Protection Incorporated. It was started by a group of citizens after a 1984 elk poaching in the Black Hills. Rewards can range from $100-$500, or more in extreme cases.
The toll-free number to call to report poachers is 1-888-OVERBAG. Callers remain anonymous.
In 2017, 261 citizens called in to report wildlife crimes, and the TIPs program rewarded those individuals with more than $6,500. Keeton said each officer with the department covers about 1,700 miles in South Dakota, so help from the public to catch poachers is something they rely on.
"I don't want people to get hunters confused with poachers,” Keeton emphasized. “Because poachers are out there killing animals illegally, and a lot of our tips come from our sportsmen and women and our hunters who do things the right way."
Keeton noted that hunting is a management tool to keep the state's wildlife populations under control. But poachers typically only want antlers, and waste the animal's meat.
"Hunters, when they harvest something, they're harvesting that animal for food,” he said. “And sometimes what we see with poachers is, really the worst kind is the thrill killing. They'll go out and they'll just shoot a deer or an animal just to watch it die."
In the past year, the TIPS program led to 146 arrests and $31,000 in fines.