The Wildlife Federation, United States Forest Service, state and federal officials have been too hasty handing out awards and congratulating each other.
After state and federal wildlife officials arrested these so-called poachers in February 2013, the state dismissed all charges on some of them in April 2013. Some hunters were arrested again in June 2013 by U.S. Forest Service officials.
In 2009, Arnold (undercover alias "Chad Ryan") and Davey Webb (alias “Davey Williams”), a wildlife agent from Georgia, visited a gun shop in Bryson City. According to the shop owner, they stated that they wanted to get involved in bear hunting and asked for recommendations of hunting guides in the area. However, according to subsequent reports, they were supposed to be infiltrating known poaching circles. The gun shop owner told them about some hunters whom he knew in Graham County. Arnold and Webb hunted with the men in Graham County and also with men from Swain, Jackson, Haywood and other counties from 2009-2012.
In late 2010 through 2011, under time constraints, Arnold and Webb resorted to various measures to try to entice the hunters to break laws. Apparently, in some cases these officers were law-breakers, not the hunters. In fact, in a recent case in Haywood County, an agent admitted to breaking 39 wildlife laws.
State and federal agents employed Gestapo-like techniques in search and seizure of so-called evidence, including improper service of search-warrants. In one house, screaming 3- and 4-year old children were left unsupervised for a period of time while the parents were in handcuffs outside the home.
“Operation Something Bruin” was not cheap. The State and Federal Wildlife spent more than $2 million of their budget — taxpayer dollars — to execute the investigation.
To date, hunters who have had jury trials have not been convicted because Arnold and Webb could not provide any evidence. Enticements by agents and/or prosecutors were made, including offers to drop charges if one hunter allegedly involved would plead to one charge and lose his license for only one day. The hunter refused and requested a jury trial. In this case, all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Although various new releases by the N.C. Wildlife Commission, as well as various media sources, have already labeled all the hunters as poachers, many of these men have not had their day in court. Whatever happened to due process of law and innocent until proven guilty?
Something IS brewing in WNC; that something would be tempers. The hunters, many who are upstanding citizens in our communities, are tired of being falsely accused, their rights ignored, and their reputations ruined by state and federal agencies, as well as the media.
Chad Arnold and the N.C. Wildlife Commission were honored at the annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet, held in October at Embassy Suites RTP in Cary.
The fact that Arnold and the Commission were given such honors makes a mockery of the governor’s banquet and its purposes, as stated in a press release: “The ceremony recognizes those who have an unwavering commitment to conservation and an uncommon determination to safeguard the state’s natural resources. By publicizing and honoring these conservation leaders — young and old, professional and volunteer — the Wildlife Federation hopes to inspire everyone to take a more active role in protecting natural resources.”
Also from the press release: “I must acknowledge the teamwork behind Operation Something Bruin and recognize those who contributed to its success,” said Col. Dale Caveny, chief of the Division of Law Enforcement, who accepted on behalf of Arnold and the Wildlife Commission. “The cohesive efforts of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service on the federal level; and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency at the state level, made this investigation work. Here at home, I have to thank North Carolina’s wildlife commissioners for their personal support and the entire Wildlife Commission, especially the Division of Wildlife Management, for their assistance. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the sportsmen and public.”
The citizens of WNC and north Georgia are now organizing to get some answers from these agencies on why their constitutional rights have been ignored and proper due process of law not given.