The Town of Woodfin is asking for the public’s help after the remains of three black bears were found on private property in late November.
“The tragic discovery of bear remains, including those of cubs, in the town limits of Woodfin represents a horrible act,” Vice Mayor Jim McAllister said in a Dec. 3 email to the Citizen Times. “Seasoned bear hunters know that even when legally taken, throwing bear remains like paws onto private property is a crime and killing a cub is never allowed.”
The Citizen Times first reported on Dec. 1 that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission was investigating after three bear carcasses, removed paws and entrails left in a bucket were found off Moore Street in a small residential community.
Town leaders discussed what they could do to help the Wildlife Commission early on the morning of Dec. 3, McAllister said.
In a shared statement, Mayor Jerry VeHaun, Town Manager Shannon Tuch and McAllister have asked for anyone with information to come forward. They referenced a $5,000 reward offered by local nonprofit Help Asheville Bears.
“It’s one thing to kill a bear during hunting season on legal grounds, but to kill a mother and cubs and dump their body parts, and do it in our town? Absolutely not,” McAllister said in a phone interview Dec. 3.
On Dec. 1, Wildlife Commission spokesperson Mindy Wharton said the agency could not confirm the bears’ weight because their bodies were “so deteriorated and dismembered.” But neighborhood residents who reported the carcasses have said that it appeared to be a mother and two cubs.
McAllister noted that it is illegal to fire a gun in town limits, much less to kill a bear.
“It is a very unusual event,” he said. “We have had bears that have been hit by cars in this town before … but this is the first incident of this. That’s why so many of us got involved this morning. This just kind of blew our heads off. You’ve got to be kidding.”
Help Asheville Bears founder Jody Williams said poaching is “rampant” across Buncombe County, Western North Carolina and wherever bears are, but often goes under the radar.
Justin McVey, mountain region wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Commission, recently told the Citizen Times there are an estimated 7,000-8,000 black bears in the WNC mountains, with an additional 2,000 bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the coast, there are about 12,000 bears, he said.
“You don’t hear about it all,” Williams said. “It’s easy to catch a drug dealer, but a poacher is the hardest thing to catch. You know, it’s out in the woods. Half the time, you’ve got to catch them in the act, unless it’s something like this where you can use DNA evidence or whatnot, or other evidence that might be found. But they’re hard to catch.”
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Williams referenced the bear parts trade, where poachers seek out gall bladders and paws to sell overseas. The trade is “alive and well,” he said.
McAllister was aware that many in Woodfin and around the area had those concerns after the incident. He had spoken with a local game warden and gotten up to speed on what the Wildlife Commission knew, he said.
“There’s all kinds of speculation running rampant as to: Did somebody kill these bears to sell their organs overseas?” McAllister said. “Nobody knows."
For now, the best thing to do would be to find the person responsible, he said.
“This is what it takes to catch people like this, to catch poachers” Williams said of the reward HAB is offering. “It takes the reward, yes, because money makes people talk. But it takes the community.”
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A Wildlife Commission spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment Dec. 3.
Tips can be submitted to Help Asheville Bears by calling 855-SOS-BEAR. The Wildlife Commission’s tip line is 800-662-7137.
Ryan Oehrli covers public safety for the Citizen Times. Tips? Comments? Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Oehrli on Twitter at @oehrli.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Woodfin leaders ask public for tips in case of mutilated black bears