Bear poachers demonstrate a lot of gall | SierraSun.com

Bear poachers demonstrate a lot of gall

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun
Dan Thrift/Sun News Service file photoA bear cruises waterfront homes in Marla Bay on Lake Tahoe's South Shore in this file photo. A state game warden says the Basin's sizable human population helps reduce the incidence of hunters poaching Tahoe bears for their body parts.
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Authorities arrested a man in Redding Saturday on suspicion of illegally trafficking bear gall bladders.

A bear-protection advocate said the problem of bear poaching is increasing at Lake Tahoe, but a state fish and game official downplayed the significance of poaching in populated areas including Tahoe.

Undercover wardens from the state Department of Fish and Game arrested Huong Tovan of San Diego while he was allegedly trying to buy bear gall bladders, The Associated Press reported.

Tovan, 54, faces up to one year in state prison and a $5,000 fine.

Officials say Tovan ran a bear gall bladder-processing operation, and the parts were probably going to be sold on the medicinal market in southeast Asia.

The investigation began in October when wildlife officials received an anonymous tip.

While bears can be hunted in California, it is illegal to buy or sell bear parts.

The fact that bear gall bladders are a prized commodity as an Asian folk medicine puts Tahoe Basin bears in danger, said Executive Director Ann Bryant of the Homewood-based BEAR League.

Additionally, she said the problem in the Lake Tahoe area has increased recently because local bears have gained global fame.

“It’s a very serious problem,” she said. “There aren’t enough wardens to patrol areas.”

Jake Bushey, a warden who patrols Shasta County, agrees that the lack of wardens throughout California has contributed to the increase in poachers.

“There are [fewer] wardens now than in 1975,” said Bushey. “The new hires this year won’t even cover the amount retiring.”

The state game warden with responsibility for the Tahoe Basin, Dave Bezzone, plans to retire by the end of the year, and his position may be difficult to fill, Bushey said.

“In theory, there could be no warden in the Lake Tahoe area for a year,” he said.

Even so, bear poaching is not as easy around Lake Tahoe as more isolated parts of California, said Patrick Foy, a Sacramento-based game warden who is also a public information officer for the Department of Fish and Game.

“Generally speaking, poachers don’t have the ability to do poaching in the Tahoe Basin like they are accustomed to, because there are so many people around,” Foy said.

Finding bears with missing paws or gall bladders is a clear sign of poaching for the illicit trade in bear parts, but Foy said reports of this type have not been common in the Tahoe area.

“People in Tahoe are pretty acute about bears and if it was an issue, we would know,” he said.