A good story’s like a tree: invisible roots and branches reaching in all directions, with everything springing from a single trunk. This one involves international poachers, dangerous covert operations, politics, a kindergarten teacher, a game of chance, Santa Claus and a shocked fiancé.

The tale begins with smugglers selling tiger hides from India; endangered mussels from the Ohio and Mississippi watersheds; black bear gallbladders from Tennessee; walleye, perch and salmon from the Great Lakes; timber from state and national forests; and endangered African rhinoceros horns.

Wildlife thieves trespass across local countrysides, bullying and threatening landowners to force them to kowtow to their intrusions while they ignore the law.

Trophy animals are illegally shot out of greed and bloodlust with less than scrupulous guides and outfitters doing anything to help fill tags to inflate egos and wallets. Local wildlife populations are degraded, with some pushed toward extinction.

Governments step up enforcement, recognizing offenses transcended borders and had become serious moneymakers. Covert teams are developed to infiltrate the bad guy’s ranks and officer training is enhanced.

Even so, officers are injured, their property is vandalized, and some are even killed. It sometimes seems the battle is for naught. Too many don’t know, too few care and politicians see no vote-grabbing reasons to budget adequate funding.

Private organizations spring up that want to help deal with this unlawful onslaught with plans to educate the public and courts, encourage people to report offenses and to help connect governments on national and international levels to deal with these wrongdoers.

TIP (Turn In a Poacher) is Ohio’s answer to getting the word out and, along with many other states and governments, they joined forces with International Wildlife Crimestoppers, Inc. (IWC). The nonprofit IWC states its mission as: “We Are Dedicated to Stopping ALL Poaching.”

The group provides public education on the difference between sustainable use and poaching, creating a force multiplier for law enforcement charged with protecting the world’s natural resources.

What would a story be without a smoke-filled bar? Unfortunately, these days smoke-filled bars are in short supply, so we’ll have to settle for Fricker’s Sports Bar in Findlay. At least we have a dark and stormy night as a group of friends huddle around tables, discussing their workweeks.

Many in that group enjoy hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Two have long histories with Ohio’s wildlife enforcement agency, and those stories are always popular.

This night, one produced raffle tickets supporting anti-poaching operations through the TIP/IWC connection. The tickets are sold and a local kindergarten teacher casually fills one out to help support anti-poaching efforts.

Months pass and, one day, her cellphone rings. Not recognizing the number, she let it go to voice mail. The caller messaged that he could make her “very happy” along with something about winning a Kodak. She wasn’t even sure if Kodak still made cameras. The calls continued, but offered scant information except for the message: “Call me.”

A couple of days go by. She’s visiting with her uncle and mentions the odd calls and her suspicions that something was peculiar. He listens to the saved messages, recognizing the voice. It was a retired Ohio wildlife officer who was once in charge of the TIP program. The call is returned.

That young lady, Van Buren kindergarten teacher Morgan Arnold, had won the grand prize being sponsored by the TIP-IWC raffle: a 2018 Yamaha 450 Kodiak ATV. Not a bad surprise. Arrangements were made for delivery.

Well, who better to deliver a gift than Santa Claus? Regional TIP representative and Findlay resident Art Yoder, who is well known for his December Santa persona, along with TIP President Mike Gregg delivered the ATV to a still very stunned Morgan, who promptly hid the machine and swore everyone to secrecy.

You see, Morgan and her fiancé, Jesse Slone, are in the final days before their wedding. She wanted to surprise him with the ATV. Unable to wait, she chose to tell Jesse during her mother’s birthday dinner.

She handed him a picture of herself perched on the seat of the machine. He sat back, sure he was going to be the butt of some joke, but he was assured that it was true. He grinned as he dreamily leaned back with visions of ATVs, like sugar plums, dancing in his head.

Learn more about stopping poaching at www.wildlifecrimestoppers.org and www.wildlife.ohiodnr.gov

“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.” — Minor Myers

Along the way:

Are you interested in hunting for your own free-range, lean, drug-free, healthy meat (now popularly called “protein”) but aren’t sure where to start? This program will get you started.

No experience is required and all equipment is available for loan. Spots are limited and will be drawn from the application pool. Applications are due by Sept. 5 at 11:59 p.m. and can be found at www.maumeevalleynwtf.com

The multi-season program, “Hunting for Food,” is free with participants responsible for their hunting license costs (process covered in the program).

• Session 1, Sept. 26: “Why Hunt?” runs 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cleland’s Outdoor World, 10306 Airport Highway, Swanton. It offers introductions and describes benefits of hunting.

• Session 2, Oct. 17: “A Day at the Range” runs 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cleland’s Outdoor World, 10306 Airport Highway, Swanton. It covers basic crossbow and range safety, crossbow shooting practice and shot-placement education.

• Session 3, Oct. 20: “A Day in the Woods” runs 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Oak Openings park, 4139 Girdham Road, Swanton. It covers looking for deer signs, woodsmanship skills and finding a place to hunt.

• Session 4, Nov. 3 to 4: “Mentored Deer Hunt” will take place at Maumee Bay State Park, 1400 State Park Road, Oregon. Participants will go on a mentored crossbow deer hunt and learn about tracking, along with field dressing and caring for the meat.

Register for all events at http://maumeevalleynwtf.com

You can also contact Skip Markland at 419-769-6983 and wmrklnd@frontier.com or Gary Robison at 419-410-5824 and gdrobison81@gmail.com

Step outside:

• Tomorrow: 50-bird trap shoot, program starts at 12:30 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• Aug. 25-26: 3-D deer archery match, registration opens at 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.

• Aug. 26: Air gun field target shoot, gates open at 10 a.m., shoot begins at noon. Event is free and open to the public at Wyandot County Coon Hunters, 12759 Township Highway 133, Nevada.

• Aug. 28: Free mourning dove hunting workshop, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area Headquarters, 19100 County Highway 115, Harpster. Preregistration is required by Aug. 27. Contact Andrea Altman at 419-429-8321.

• Aug. 31 to Oct. 5: Fly fishing clinic, Castalia State Fish Hatchery. There are 100 slots available with sessions being held Fridays from Aug. 31 through Oct. 5, with the exception of Sept. 7. Sessions will be from 8 a.m. until noon, or 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 31, Sept. 14, Sept. 21, Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. Submit a postcard listing name, address, customer ID number (fishing license number) and phone. Successful applicant may bring one guest. Only one postcard per applicant, send them to: ODNR Division of Wildlife District Two, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay 45840. Attention: Beginner Fly Fishing Clinics. Includes fishing for rainbows on Cold Creek.

• Sept. 10, 17, and 26; Oct. 3, 10 and 18: Ball metal trap shoot, 9 a.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. Contact Denny Snyder at 419-722-7846. Everyone is welcome.

• Hunter and trapper education class information and registration is found online at www.wildohio.gov.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com