By Frank Luba
Two Burnaby women face fines as high as $250,000 and up to a year in prison if convicted on charges under the Wildlife Act.
Charges of trafficking in black bear parts, specifically paws and gall bladders, unlawful possession of wildlife and trafficking in wildlife meat were approved by crown counsel in April against Yon Kim and Yunhee Kim.
Gaill bladders are used in traditional Asian medicine and soup made from bear paws is considered to be a delicacy in some Asian countries.
The two accused’s first court appearance was June 26 in Port Coquitlam provincial court, with their next appearance to be July 23.
Court documents indicate their offences took place in Merritt and Coquitlam.
The potential penalties seem stiff but Chris Doyle, acting deputy-chief of the provincial Conservation Officers Service, suggested Tuesday the maximum penalty is not used often.
“I don’t believe anyone has got the maximum for a first offence,” said Doyle.
The suspects in this case don’t appear to have any prior offences.
They were charged after a six-month investigation that began in October of 2014.
“Because it’s before the courts, I can’t go into any more details,” said Doyle.
He was also unable to provide details on the number of poached bears or whether the number is going up or down, although Doyle said “it is an offence of concern.”
Black bears are not on the province’s list of endangered species but anyone with information about poaching is encouraged to call the province’s tip-line at 1-877-952-7277.
“It’s well used to report violations,” said Doyle.
DROUGHT MAY ALTER BEAR FORAGING HABITS
The current drought-like conditions may have an effect on the bears.
“So far, it appear our bear conflicts, at least on the South Coast, we’re below average,” said Doyle. “The big concern is how the weather affects the berry crops.”
The berries mature earlier at lower elevations, luring bears down from the mountains. As the summer progresses, the bears move back up the mountains following the berries that mature later at the higher elevations.
What could be a concern this year, said Doyle, is if the berries mature too soon and dry up in the heat, reducing their nutritional value.
That could send bears looking for alternate food sources, like household food waste, and potentially increase conflicts with humans.
“It depends what happens with the berries, that’s the critical piece for the South Coast,” said Doyle.