April 29, 2012 in Outdoors

Photos incriminate hunter in bear baiting case

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Fish and Wildlife police seized trail camera photos they say shows suspects putting out bait near a cabin in Okanogan County.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

A Pierce County man built a picture-perfect case – against himself and others – to help prosecutors file charges on more than 40 counts involving baiting and killing black bears at his Okanogan County cabin.

Photographs seized from his motion-activated trail camera left little to the imagination of law enforcement officials.

“The photos show suspects putting the bait with their cabin in the background while others show the bears coming in to the bait,” said Sgt. James Brown, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department police officer in Okanogan County.

“This pulls together a case our officers have been working on since they started getting complaints about six years ago. The case report runs 300 pages.”

James Erickson, 52, of Eatonville, Wash., was arraigned last week on charges of using bait to lure bears, unlawful big-game hunting, unlawful transport, spotlighting and possession of stolen property among other things in the past two years. Several other friends or family members also are involved.

A statewide initiative banned bear baiting in 1996.

Fish and Wildlife police have evidence that Erickson had hauled restaurant scraps and salmon to his property in the Methow Valley’s Rendezvous area. Bears couldn’t resist coming in to the stinking food pile.

Brown said officers had received tips for years indicating Erickson welcomed Western Washington residents who used the cabin as a base for big-game violations.

“It was common knowledge among people who lived in the area that illegal hunting activity with bears and deer was going on out of that cabin,” Brown said. “We regularly got complaints.

“We even assigned an undercover officer who made contact with the suspects. They would brag to him about some of their exploits.

“We could have made a case on minor violations, but we weren’t willing to blow our cover because we knew more serious things were going on.”

After receiving tips from local residents, officers obtained search warrants for the cabin and Erickson’s home, allowing them to seize more than 1,000 photos and videos from trail cameras and computers. Also seized was a diary of visits to the cabin that helped tie everything together.

The state confiscated the rifle Erickson allegedly used for shooting one of the illegally taken black bears as well as the 2007 Chevrolet Suburban used to transport the carcass to a Westside butcher. The vehicle also was used to transport bait, including whole salmon, Brown said.

Erickson’s attorney told a Northwest Sportsman Magazine editor: “When the case comes to trial, most of the air will come out of the balloon.

“I think (WDFW) cast too big of a net – there may be some violations, but it’s not the crime of the century,” said John Brangwin of Woods & Brangwin in Wenatchee.

Brangwin suggested the case will hinge on whether it’s legal to leave out food that wildlife may come upon.

Brown said the photos prove the baiting was not an accident.

“They shot some of the animals coming into bait from a chair on the cabin porch,” he said.

“(Erickson) was caught red-handed on his own trail camera,” said Clay Hill, Okanogan County deputy prosecutor. “He used the latest and greatest gadgets to essentially brag about what he did as well as to implicate himself,” he said, noting Erickson posted one of his bear kills on his Facebook page.

“I don’t think his attorney is going to think it’s all wind when he sees the pictures.”


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