US Bear Poaching: One Caught, How Many Lurk in Woods?

bear on road photo

Hmm, croissants with honey? Photo by Jet Alone via Flicker

It's bear season in Pennsylvania and the hunters are wild. When Wildlife Conservation Officer Cory Bentzoni of Pennsylvania's Game Commission noticed a truck loaded with pastries driving along Route 309 in Luzerne County, he smelled something suspicious - and it wasn't just baked butter, flour and sugar. This was a week before the 3-day bear season opened, November 22-24, just before Thanksgiving. "Being that we were so close to bear season, seeing that person drive by with an unusual amount of pastries was like watching an individual go down a row of parked vehicles testing each handle to see if it were open," said Bentzoni. "Something just didn't seem right."

Bentzoni jotted the vehicle's license plate number and learned it was registered to Charles W. Olsen, Jr. of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The WCO alerted Game Commission personnel monitoring bear check stations in the region to keep an eye out for Olsen hauling in a bear.

Straight off, I've an issue with hunting in the US. The concept of "ethical hunting" is an oxymoron in my book. Okay, let's say there is an overpopulation of animals, the meat feeds a family of eight for a year who would go hungry otherwise, some people have an animal killing gene, or whatever other rationale is used. Yeah, bears look cute, too -- but it is legal to kill them, within certain restrictions.

Bear Poaching

On November 25, Olsen brought a whopping 707-lb. bear into the Northeast Region Office in Dallas, Pennsylvania. It might have gone unnoticed (despite its immensity), but he claimed to have "harvested" the animal in a different township in another county, so the WCO on duty asked the supervisor how to handle it.

The Land Management Supervisor Peter Sussenbach was aware of the tip from Bentzoni, and slowly approached Olsen. "There might be a problem with this bear," he grumbled. Olsen spilled his guts. Guilt-ridden perhaps, he confessed to luring the bear with a pile of pastries. Apparently, the bear was also the state's largest.

Charges will be filed for illegally killing a bear with bait. The perp faces fines of $500 to $1,500 and loss of his hunting/trapping license for three years. Also, the Game Commission will request restitution for the trophy-class bear of up to $5,000 as a means of deterring others who might "steal Pennsylvania's wildlife."

"What is most unfortunate is that law-abiding bear hunters in the area were robbed of the opportunity to legally harvest truly a trophy bear by fair chase means," said Northeast Region Law Enforcement Supervisor Dan Figured. Really? Is this "hunter" being a wuss the "most unfortunate part" or that the head could have been otherwise proudly mounted?

Olsen was an accidental catch. But then I again, I eat meat -- though less and less. There are better ways to "harvest" food. Disappearing salmon threatens grizzlies. Melting glaciers endanger polar bear habitat. Even photo safaris can be dangerous to animals. And people hunt with rifles and truckloads of cinnamon buns and cheese danish, while their kids play with Teddy, and we consider how climate change is creating a new species of Grolar Bears.

More on hunting:
Hunting, Fishing and Hypocrisy: Store-bought Meat was Killed Too
Can Hunting Be Green?
Photo Safaris Potentially More Environmentally Damaging Than Hunting
More on bears:
Care About Bears? You Can Help Save Them
Why Grizzly Bears Need Our Help Now
Focus on Focus Earth: The Bear Whisperer

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