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Friday May 29th, 2015 6:31PM

State, Feds, crack down on bear poachers

By Jerry Gunn Reporter
GAINESVILLE - State and federal wildlife officials in Georgia and North Carolina Wednesday morning in Gainesville announced an undercover operation involving 80 wildlife violators and 980 violations.

Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Col. Eddie Henderson, called 'Operation Something Bruin' an effort to stop illegal poaching, primarily of black bear.

"It will be ongoing at least through Friday, maybe Saturday and Sunday," Henderson said.

According to Henderson, the poachers were violating both state and federal law by illegally hunting bear and serving as guides to illegally take bear on federal land, mostly in north Georgia counties and across the state line in North Carolina.

"And then you put in the fact that they were transporting wildlife that was taken illegally across state lines and you're looking at additional federal violations," Henderson added. "Anything from hunting bear over bait, hunting bear out of season, hunting deer at night, hunting from a vehicle, hunting from a public road, and hunting on closed wildlife management areas were some of the state charges we have."

In Georgia eight defendants face 136 charges and one hard core poacher has 99 charges against him. Major Todd Kennedy with the North Carolina Resources Commission said at the press conference held at the DNR Wildlife Enforcement Office his agency got involved in 2010 and Tuesday began seizing evidence and issuing search warrants for bear poachers.

"In North Carolina 169 state charges have been filed for about 50 defendants," Kennedy said. "Additionally 10 search warrants have also been served. There are numerous other suspects who we plan to interview that could potentially lead to more violations."

Henderson said a total of 20 bears were killed, ten in each state, adding that three search warrants were executed Tuesday with three poacher arrests so far in Georgia.

Operation Something Bruin is not the first operation to crack down on bear poachers. Col. Henderson said in the 1980's there was a similar effort called 'Operation Smokey'. It yielded several poaching arrests.

"It's kind of a cycle that has come back around," Henderson said, adding that multi agency, state and federal cooperation was a key to success.

The Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service were involved.

"We needed to cooperate," Henderson recalled. "One agency did not have all the resources that it took to pull this operation off over a four year period of time. That was probably the biggest thing, pooling resources and sharing information and being able to collaborate."
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