Bear-poaching probe continues after massive bust nets 80 arrests

A state and federal sting has netted some 80 people involved in bear poaching. Wildlife officials say hunting limits have brought the black bear, seen above, back from near-extinction in Georgia. (Photo: Reuters)
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Maria Kim

Authorities are still investigating bear-poaching operations in North Carolina and Georgia after arresting some 80 people in a massive sting operation last week.

Six search warrants were being executed in Georgia on Wednesday, according to the Dahlonega Nugget.

The four-year undercover probe known as Operation Something Bruin uncovered nearly a thousand suspected offenses, including bear baiting, illegal use of dogs, operating illegal bear enclosures, and guiding hunts in National Forests without permits. Some violators may face federal felony charges.

The operation is a multi-agency effort among local authorities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.

Some poachers would lure bears with peanut butter and chocolate and then chase them up trees with hunting dogs. The hunters also used cell phones, GPS equipment and social media to organize their operations.

“These bears were being killed pretty much all year long,” said Col. Eddie Henderson, head of law enforcement for wildlife at Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, as quoted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “These folks were hunting on a daily basis.”

Most of the poachers hunted the bears for trophies, police said.

While bear hunting is legal in both states, wildlife officials say limits on the hunting season and bans on techniques like baiting are crucial to keeping the animal’s population strong. Bears were hunted nearly to extinction in Georgia in the 1930s, according to Operation Something Bruin; the state is now home to some 5,000 bears, while North Carolina has 16,000.