By Liz Kellar
One of the two men charged on the basis of DNA evidence in a bear poaching case pleaded guilty Thursday to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jason Scott Wilkison, 43, of Grass Valley, took a plea agreement in return for a stipulated sentence of two years in state prison.
Wilkison and his co-defendant, Christopher Art Nunley, 54, of North San Juan, had been charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of a bear and unlawfully killing a bear, as well as felony charges involving the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.
Nunley is considering a plea offer and will be back in court Jan. 16.
The female bear reportedly was killed in April at a residence located near Grizzly Flat. The two men reportedly tried to butcher the bear and skin it and then tried to get rid of it.
The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office assisted California Fish and Wildlife wardens in serving a series of search warrants that led to the discovery of bear remains, allegedly found in a shallow grave near Wilkison’s residence. Additional bear hair allegedly was located at Nunley’s residence.
To build the bear-poaching case, wildlife officers executed six separate search warrants during their nearly half-year investigation. The bear’s DNA indicated it was a female black bear, said warden Jerry Karnow.
Karnow launched the investigation after receiving reports that the bear had been unlawfully shot after being lured with bait.
“A lot of our cases are made from statements without any evidence, and we spend hours and days corroborating that,” Karnow said.
Karnow was led to two supposed kill sites, and found bear hair and bear blood at one of the locations in a “very remote area,” he said.
“I was able to make a poaching case based on that,” Karnow said. “I never did recover the body or the skull. Through DNA, we positively identified the blood and hair as coming from a bear.”
Karnow noted the state’s DNA lab frequently receives requests from other states and had a lengthy backlog; he said he was able to have his results expedited, however.
Wilkison is set to return to Nevada County Superior Court to be sentenced on Jan. 17.