It’s been a year since a hunter left a bear’s severed paw at my home. DNA testing on the paw has yet to reveal the bear’s “legal” killer, making it very likely he was poached during or shortly after the 2014 hunt.
Recently during the 2015 hunt, a similar incident happened to our Take Back Our Woods trail walkers. And again, the Division of Fish & Wildlife was reluctant to investigate, making it crystal clear to me that the DFW has no intention of solving either case. I also suspect they know which one of their “sportsmen” did it, and are keeping quiet – because it would be bad PR for them, and for the trophy hunts they so aggressively promote.
Everyone knows it’s a threat to receive dead animal parts. But when I spoke with the DFW officer on the 2014 paw case, he said he’d “never heard of me,” and so it wasn’t a real threat. Another time we spoke, he was brusk. I felt he was annoyed that he had to speak with me at all.
The day the paw was found, I made a video. Once in the hands of the DEP, I feared how easily the paw could disappear. And that’s essentially what happened. I never got any real sense from the DEP that the incident was being taken seriously, either a threat or as a poaching crime, and as far as I know, we may never hear more about it.
2015. A Second Poaching in Our Park, and More Bear Parts
Before dawn on Day Five of the 2015 bear hunt, we discovered the remains (internal organs) of a small bear lying right on the same trail we had patrolled all week. Within the hour, we traced backwards the events leading up to her killing:
We followed the blood trail backwards, from the bear’s remains to the hunter’s blind, (a hiding place made of broken branches). There we found the blood-soaked depression where the small bear died – and a shotgun shell. (Conservation officers later confirmed our findings. She was indeed killed in the woods by the blind, then carried the short distance to the trail where the hunter sliced her open and removed her insides.) Ali examined her remains – her little stomach was filled with seeds and berries. Later, April and I followed the hunter’s tracks and drag marks back out of the park, where we found another piece of the bear, cleanly cut, and left exactly where our volunteers are known to rest. We later learned that a resident saw trucks leaving the park at 9:30pm the night before.
The bear's remains are significant for 3 reasons:
1. Evidence points to an illegal killing. Our trail walkers patrolled the exact area, from pre-dawn to dark the day before – no nearby shots were heard and no hunters were seen in that immediate area. We believe the bear was killed illegally, after hours, when we would not be there to witness it.
2. An extreme act of intimidation. The guts – and the other piece of the bear – were left in two key locations where hunters had seen us. I believe the bear parts were left there deliberately for us, to spite and to intimidate us.
3. Bear protection advocates are often targeted by hunters – and marginalized by authorities. When I spoke with DFW that morning to report a poaching, I was told it could not be considered a poaching. I calmly explained the details, and I said we would sign statements saying that the trail was clear the night before, but to no avail. I believe that had a hunter expressed concern that a bear was poached, the DFW/DEP would have taken them seriously. (The DFW only agreed to send officers after the BEAR Group Director, Angi Metler contacted the media.)
In December 2014, when I first saw the paw on the ground, I felt a reverence toward it that was stronger than my revulsion of the hunter who left it there. The paw, like the bear it belongs to, is precious. Holding his paw was shocking, but made me feel connected to the bears’ spirit. When I left his paw with the police, I felt like I was abandoning him. I promised him I would never forget him. I know that everyone feels the same toward the young bear poached this year in Wawayanda and for all of those taken from us. The power of Life is stronger than the power of Death.
Special thanks to: Bill C., Mike D., Eleanor H., Jim H., Flo I., Ali K., Sue K., Igor K., Shari M., Angi M., Jean M., Carol R., April S., and Dani V.
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