From Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
-- With the evolving way people communicate, Alabama hopes to capitalize on the new technology to expand its ability to crack down on those who violate game and fish laws in the state.
After the success of Operation GameWatch, a program designed to stop fish and game violators by involving the public via a toll-free number, the Tip411 program utilizes text messaging to report the law violators anonymously. Text "gamewatch" to 847411 to report the violation.
The Tip411 program, supported by grants from the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama, will also be used to enhance the Marine Resources Division's 24-hour hotline (251)476-1256 for reporting violations.
Allan Andress, chief of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division's Enforcement Section, said Tip411 is a natural extension of the GameWatch program.
"This gives people the opportunity to text in tips on their cell phone," Andress said. "They can do so anonymously, if they choose to. The information goes through the server of the provider and is stripped of any personal identification. Of course, people can tell who they are if they choose to by including it in the text, but they don't have to. That's their choice. It will be anonymous unless the person decides to include their personal information.
"They can interact with the dispatcher if they wish or they can cut it off. It's up to the person doing the texting."
Andress said the GameWatch program has been an important tool to catch those who flaunt the game and fish laws.
"We rely very heavily on information from the public for violations," he said. "We only have so many eyes and ears. We have somewhere around 110 field people on a regular basis. That's not many people to cover 67 counties, so it's crucial that we get information from the public. We have people out there hunting and fishing. They are capable of doing surveillance all the time. They see and hear a lot when they're in the woods or on the water.
"This is a chance to take part in the process, and it helps us out tremendously. In turn, it also helps them out, because these kinds of things also concern them. It's affecting their hunting and fishing and their resource. It's a way for them to help protect what they care about."
Andress said during deer season which runs through Jan. 31, the most common violations are baiting and night hunting.
"The thing that concerns us now is we have seen an uptick in night hunting reports in west and northwest Alabama," he said. "We don't know what's caused it. The reports from the field show that there have been more incidents of night hunting than we've had in the past. After being down to historically low levels last year, that number could be considerably higher this year."
Andress said compliance with the three-buck limit seems to be good with only a few incidents when hunters have failed to record the harvest.
"We haven't had substantial problems," he said. "Most people were not exceeding three bucks a season anyway. We still run into a few people who haven't recorded their buck harvest, but, for the most part, it has been inadvertent. You have to think about writing it down."
Also, for anyone who harvests a deer and gives it to a friend or transfers the deer in any way, documentation is needed to show the transfer from the licensed hunter. Go to http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/harvest/ and click on Antlered Buck and Turkey Harvest Record to download a form with a harvest record and a donation form.
Andress said if a person wishes to donate a deer and a form is not available, the hunter can write the pertinent information - the hunter's license number, date animal was harvested, a description of the animal and to whom the deer was donated - on a card or piece of paper that should be kept with the animal.
-By David Rainer