Brian McMahan and Johnny Nicholson can both remember boyhood days spent in the mountains, hunting the elusive ginseng plant.
Coveted for its myriad medicinal uses, ginseng root harvest is an Appalachian tradition stretching back through generations. McMahan and Nicholson were both taught to dig it in such a way that its numbers would stay strong for generations more — leaving small plants to grow and planting the seed-containing berries of harvested plants in the earth around the dig.
By Katie Reeder • SMN Intern
A recurring theme emerged in a congressional oversight hearing last week aimed at shedding light on the questionable tactics and motives of wildlife agencies behind the now-infamous undercover poaching sting known as Operation Something Bruin: where is the line between personal freedoms and governmental oversight?
More than 100 hunters and their supporters packed the historic Haywood County courthouse last week for the latest installment in the ongoing saga over Operation Something Bruin.
Some hunters in Western North Carolina are speaking out against the tactics used by undercover wildlife officers in a multi-year bear poaching investigation.
Shock waves rippled through the mountain hunting community last week as word spread of a sweeping undercover investigation targeting dozens of illegal rogue hunters.
Last week, state and federal wildlife officers began rounding up dozens of suspected poachers in Western North Carolina, bringing to fruition an undercover investigation that spanned several years across several rural mountain counties and penetrated the heart of an illegal hunting ring that targeted black bears.
They operate in groups, or sometimes alone, packing duffle bags of the illicit product by foot through the Western North Carolina wilderness as they try their best to evade federal agents.
Once out of the woods, they smuggle their contraband in the trunks of cars, traveling back roads as they move the goods from remote drop points to warehouses where it is then sold and shipped domestically and to countries across the globe.
Wildlife officers have charged a Cashiers man with killing a bear that he claimed was damaging his property, the second such case in Jackson County in less than a year.
Jeffrey Spencer Green, 39, was charged recently with illegally shooting and killing a 300-pound bear, according to records on file at the Jackson County Clerk of Court’s office. Green claimed the bear was damaging his house and property on Slab Town Road, but there was no evidence supporting that claim, Wildlife Officer Brent Hyatt said.
Last summer, Hyatt charged Sylva chiropractor John Caplinger with killing a bear perched in a tree on his property. Caplinger, like Green, reportedly claimed that he believed the bear a threat.
State law forbids killing a bear unless it’s causing significant property damage or is threatening a person’s life. Replacement costs for a bear are $2,213 in North Carolina. Court costs alone top $2,000. Combined convictions could carry hefty financial penalties.
Both Green and Caplinger, coincidentally, are set to appear in a Jackson County courtroom Jan. 26.
But, poaching a bear isn’t the only charge Green will face. As Hyatt traced the dead bear back to Green, it resulted in a slew of other charges against Green, plus two other Cashiers residents as well.
The investigation led to charges of an illegally killed deer and a turkey. There’s even a littering charge against Green for, according to Hyatt, improperly disposing of the turkey by tossing its carcass out of a vehicle window onto the roadside.
According to court papers and Officer Hyatt, Green shot the bear a stone’s throw off N.C. 107 on Slab Town Road near the busy Cashiers’ crossroads. Upset by the death of this favorite neighborhood visitor, someone aware of and unhappy about the bear’s slaying tipped the state agency.
Hyatt said he suspects some of Slab Town’s residents were feeding the bear, causing it to lose its healthy, natural fear of humans. Though he’s sympathetic regarding the neighborhood’s loss, Hyatt said the situation served as yet another reminder to not feed wildlife — for the bear’s own good.
After shooting the bear, Green let it lie on the side of the road for a day, Hyatt said, then called a friend, Steve Crawford of the Pine Creek community, and asked for help moving it.
“The deal was Mr. Crawford would keep the meat, Mr. Green the bear hide,” Hyatt said, adding that the bear meat actually had spoiled because the animal was left in the heat for too long.
Crawford ended up being charged with possessing and transporting an illegally taken black bear.
As the investigation blossomed, Hyatt said he charged Green with, among a variety of other charges, night deer hunting and taking a turkey out of season.
Additionally, Marlena Carlton of Cashiers was charged in the night deer-hunting incident, Hyatt said.
“It turned into a big case,” the wildlife officer said in a bit of an understatement.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is actively seeking the public’s help. Call in wildlife violations for investigations at 800.662.7137 or, if in Jackson County, call Wildlife Officer Brent Hyatt directly at 828.293.3417.