By Becky Johnson
Some hunters in Western North Carolina are speaking out against the tactics used by undercover wildlife officers in a multi-year bear poaching investigation.
More than 80 arrests were made last February in Operation Something Bruin, which was touted by state and federal agencies as a takedown of bear poaching circles.
But many of the hunters caught up in the sting were in fact law-abiding hunters who became victims of entrapment or trumped-up charges by wildlife agents — and even accused of things they did not do, according to Linda Crisp, a resident of Graham County whose son and husband were charged in the poaching roundup.
“It is time the hunters and their families had a chance to tell what happened to them in Operation Something Bruin,” Crisp said. “We just want the truth to come out on how these men were treated.”
Crisp has organized a public meeting for hunters who were targeted in Operation Something Bruin to speak out about their experience. She hopes that the greater hunting community in the mountains will come to the meeting to hear the stories, as well as local- and state-elected leaders.
It will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, in the auditorium of Swain County High School.
Over the course of a four-year investigation, undercover agents posing as hunters befriended and infiltrated the bear hunting community in the mountains of North Carolina and North Georgia. More than 80 hunters were charged with various wildlife violations, from bear poaching to lesser offenses like bear baiting, illegal use of bear dogs, trapping bears, selling bear parts and guiding hunts on national forest lands without permits.
But according to some of the hunters arrested in Operation Something Bruin, the wildlife agents were on a fishing expedition and some hunters were unfairly set up or tricked.
“They were trying to manipulate and entice these hunters to break the laws,” Crisp said. “In some cases they may have succeeded, but in other cases they did not, and the hunters didn’t go along with it. To me the whole thing is entrapment.”
For example, Crisp said in one case an undercover agent bought bear bait and convinced hunters to let him put the bait on their property, but if left to their own devices the hunters never would have done that.
At least a dozen of those charged have had their charges dropped or dismissed in court by judges and prosecutors.