Wildlife agents charged a Ukrainian immigrant with snaring at least three bears in northeastern Washington following an investigation that used hidden videocameras to help identify the alleged poacher.
Agents found three large snares and worry more may dot the remote ridges and tangled creek bottoms in Pend Oreille County.
Nikolay Senchenko, 45, is charged with illegally killing wildlife and attempting to kill grizzly bears, a threatened species.
Wildlife agents say they arrested Senchenko as he reset a snare they tripped several days earlier.
Speaking broken English, and sometimes in Russian with two of his nine children interpreting, Senchenko said he didn’t set the snares but stumbled across one Thursday as he was legally hunting bears.
Senchenko, 11319 E. Grace, said he was only looking at the snare. He said that for his own safety, he always carries pliers while hunting.
“Some hunters told me, ‘If you walk off the road, you must carry pliers,”’ because of the danger of being caught in a snare, said Senchenko, who immigrated in 1989 and became a U.S. citizen in March.
The Spokane Valley man faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. He was released on personal recognizance pending a probable-cause hearing later this month.
State and federal wildlife agents began their investigation two years ago.
Court documents show agents learned about the snares on Sept. 31, 1993, when a hunter found one on Dry Ridge near Ione. It was baited with a half gallon of honey.
Agents found one more near the first, and another hunter found a third near Slate Creek, about 15 miles north of Dry Ridge.
They found a black bear carcass last October near one of the snares. Its gallbladder, skull and front claws were missing.
Twice since, agents have seen fur and other signs that a bear had been killed. They could not determine whether those two animals were black bears or grizzlies.
Senchenko will face stiffer penalties if agents determine he sold bear parts, a common motive for bear poaching.
Poachers can fetch $200 to $400 for bear gallbladders, which are dried, ground and sold as an aphrodisiac in Korea and China. Bear claws and teeth are used for jewelry in the United States.
Circumstantial evidence ties Senchenko to at least two snares.
His SKS assault rifle is identical to the gun carried by one of three men videotaped near a snare.
Agents who went undercover as grouse hunters also report talking to a nervous man with a heavy accent in Senchenko’s Isuzu Trooper near a snare last month. They reported spotting SKS cartridges in the Trooper.
It is not clear from federal court documents whether the description of the Trooper’s driver matches the tall, muscular Senchenko.
As for his rifle, “is there only one SKS in Spokane?” Senchenko asked.
The guns are widely available but rarely used for hunting.
Senchenko, who is unemployed and attends English classes, said he has shot three or four bears in the last five years. He uses the gallbladders as a salve for sore knees and other aches, he said.
“It’s not illegal; it’s mine,” he said. “I bought (the license). I shot. I use.”
Senchenko compared the wildlife agents, who he said approached him with their handguns drawn, to KGB agents.
State wildlife agent Ted Holden arrested Senchenko last Thursday at Slate Creek.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DANGEROUS SNARES Wildlife agents are concerned more bear snares are in the woods of Pend Oreille County. A person caught in the snares, made of heavy steel cable, could suffer a broken or dislocated leg, or worse. “It’d be very difficult to release yourself, hanging by your foot, five feet off the ground,” said Roger Parker, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent. Parker urged hunters who spot snares to leave them alone, note the location and call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 928-6050, or the poaching hotline at 1-800-47POACH. “There’s got to be more of them out there,” said Parker.