After two Illinois teens were charged in connection to the shooting of five American white pelicans at Newton Lake on April 3, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources credited information provided by the public with helping to catch the suspects.
Illinois Conservation Police had asked anyone with information on the crime to call the Target Illinois Poachers line at 1-877-236-7529 (1-877-2DNRLAW). Tips call into the hotline have helped Conservation Police Officers break several cases in the past decade.
In this instance, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports five pelicans were shot dead at the lake, located in Jasper County in east-central Illinois. A sixth pelican was shot, but is recuperating. It has been sent to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine for treatments.
CPO Zach Roper said officials don’t know why anyone would shoot the pelicans because they have “no value to a hunter.” Pelicans are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Act and state law.
There is no hunting season for pelicans. Since the birds are federally protected, they cannot be legally mounted by taxidermists.
White pelicans are seen throughout the region each spring and fall as they migrate to and from the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Plains and Canada.
In the past, the Target Illinois Poachers line has proven quite beneficial.
“We had a case two years ago that lead to the arrest of 2-3 individuals and several citations on multiple deer being taken,” said Eric Rollins, a sergeant with the Illinois Conservation Police. “I think that actually started out as an anonymous tip. In that instance it was already out there. It definitely helps it’s a good tool for us.’
In 2017 there were 250 calls to the tip line. The previous year there were just 193 calls, one of the lowest years on record.
Rollins said the IDNR has to take partial responsibility for the decline in calls in recent years. In the past, the Target Illinois Poachers number had been prominently displayed in the department’s Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping regulations. And, in previous years the number has been listed on the back of hunting and fishing licenses.
“It went from being more prominent in the digest to taking a backseat,” Rollins said. “I think now it’s located on page 46 in the digest. It used to be on the back of our hunting licenses. We’re trying to get that back on there.
"It’s just not out there enough, and the officer numbers are on the website now, so people are able to call their local officers.”
He said another reason for the decline in calls is the prevalence of social media. With that in mind, the IDNR is trying to make it easier for citizens to report unlawful activity. The incident at Newton was prominently mentioned on the conservation police department’s Facebook page.
“We are trying to make it easier,” Rollins said. “We have looked into possibly texting or an app where you could put all the information in without actually talking to somebody. That’s also something we’re hoping to get implemented.”
There is also some discussion about Illinois instituting a reward program for tips leading to the arrest of poachers. Currently, that possibility is still in the discussion phase.
But, for the time being, Illinois citizens wishing to report conservation violations, whether it be poaching or polluting, can call 1-877-236-7529.