GAINESVILLE, Ga -- About 80 people are being arrested by state wildlife officials in Georgia and North Carolina for poaching black bears. The arrests are part of a four year undercover investigation.
The investigation began in 2009 when the US Forest Service got word of some illegal bear hunting. "And as we got into it, it just kept getting bigger and bigger," said Colonel Eddie Henderson of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division's Law Enforcement Section. "It sort of spider webbed out."
In the end 80 arrest warrants were obtained for some 980 violations.
Officer from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission began infiltrating poaching circles by monitoring advertisements for guide hunts. "They looked on social media, Facebook, Craigslist and found individuals that were offering for hire to take them hunting," Col. Henderson said.
It was the beginning of an investigation called "Operation Something Bruin".
Colonel Henderson said the poachers set bait traps to lure bears to a specific area. "Once you get the bears lured into a particular area then they would release their hounds and they'd tree the bear and shoot the bear," he said.
Henderson said hunters paid the poachers an average of $1,000 per bear. The hunters would use the bears hides, heads and paws for trophies.
Investigators uncovered a number of violations including bear baiting; illegal taking of bears, deer and other wildlife; illegal use of dogs; illegal operation of bear pens; and, guiding hunts on national forest lands without the required permits.
Henderson said some of the poachers were hunting from public roads, shooting from their vehicles. "You think about it someone's shooting a rifle or high powered rifle from a highway from a vehicle, that's a major public safety issue," he said.
Eight people were arrested in Georgia and are charged with 136 violations.
Henderson said fewer than 10 percent of all wildlife crimes are reported and encouraged the public to help protect the wildlife by calling Georgia's Turn In Poachers (TIP) line at 1-800-241-4113 or by logging onto the Georgia Wildlife website.
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