BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's RAP program, otherwise known as Report All Poachers, turns 30 this year.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's RAP program, otherwise known as Report All Poachers, turns 30 this year.

But the story of the program that allows the public to report hunting and fishing violations and offers reward money for tips leading to convictions goes back well beyond 1984 when it was first implemented.

The RAP hotline — 800-472-2121 — is a toll-free phone number by which callers can report possible violations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through North Dakota State Radio. The number is printed on hunting and fishing licenses.
Lyle Gallagher, who was the director of State Radio from 1971 to 2002, was one of the people instrumental in getting RAP off the ground.

The program is a cooperative effort of the Game and Fish Department, State Radio and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Gallagher was recently honored with the Wildlife Federation's 2013 communications award for his contributions.
An avid outdoorsman, Gallagher began working for State Radio in 1964 when its communications center was located at the Bismarck Airport. Today, it's housed at the North Dakota National Guard's Fraine Barracks.

Back in the day, before cellphones or even two-way radios, Gallagher told The Bismarck Tribune, game wardens had to communicate with one another by flashing their headlights.
Gallagher said the communications center moved to its present location in 1967, but it was the blizzard that paralyzed the state for a week in March 1966 that started him thinking.

He was on duty as a dispatcher and worked three straight days because nothing was moving.
"I think it was that blizzard that opened my eyes to how bad our communications were," he said.

The wheels started turning, albeit slowly, and in 1977, the state erected 36 radio towers connected to a central location covering all of North Dakota.
"We wanted a system where everyone, even school buses, would be able to contact State Radio," Gallagher said. "We were a model for the U.S., especially for rural states."

Gallagher served as State Radio director under nine governors, including Ed Schafer, who was governor in 1982 when implementing the RAP hotline was first discussed.
Gallagher said the late Dale Henegar, who was director of the Game and Fish Department then, called him to talk about how to get the program going.

"I told Dale we had things in place," Gallagher said. "We didn't need anything new. ... We didn't have to reinvent things. We just have to make it work."
The first year of the RAP program, 35 calls resulted in 57 violations prosecuted.
Pat Lothspeich began his career as a game warden in 1983 with a 2,000-square-mile territory in the Belfield area.

Mobile phones were just coming on the market and service was spotty.
"(Communication) was slow," he said. When reports of poaching or other violations were radioed to him, Lothspeich said most often he would be pulling into the yard of farmer or rancher and ask to use their landline.

He said it made his job investigating reports difficult because oftentimes those reports were several days or weeks old.
"The sooner we can get to the scene, the better chance we have of catching violators," he said.
Lothspeich said once cellphones became commonplace, oftentimes he would have a detailed description of a violation — as it was happening — from a citizen witness.

He said it doesn't always happen that way for game wardens. Sometimes it takes some old-fashioned detective work.
Lothspeich was the game warden who led the investigation in North Dakota's biggest poaching case to date.

Five men from western North Dakota were charged in 2009 in the illegal killing of more than 40 big game animals two years earlier.
Lothspeich said after more than a year of investigation, he was able to put a case together because of public involvement.

"That case got blown wide open because of a RAP call," he said.
Lothspeich said in his experience, there has been an even split of RAP calls from landowners and hunters.
He said many landowners are hunters and most choose to remain anonymous even though callers can collect rewards.

The value of the RAP program can't be measured simply in terms of fines and arrests, Lothspeich said. He said people have taken a stake in protecting wildlife and other natural resources and are willing to get involved.

Gallagher said it's a good example of public and state agencies cooperating for the greater good.

"The real heroes are the dispatchers and the game wardens," Gallagher said.