DFG Busts Black Bear Poaching Ring

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In the largest operation involving bear poachers in more than a decade, a total of 11 suspects were arrested by the Department of Fish and Game Wednesday, culminating a year-long investigation into three separate networks of bear and other animal poachers and illegal guides.

Those arrested included Mike Milam, 27, of Bakersfield; Jesse Merrill, 31, Arvin; Ronald Huckaby, 66, Bodfish; Lodis Williams, 69, Greenfield; Vernon McGough, 59, and Larry Wilburn, 65, Rosamond; Marco Contreras, 33, and Gilbert Galindo, 56, Los Angeles; Cecil Rowland, 45, Strathmore; Billy Rowland, 26, Lindsay; and Dennis Washington, 32, Exeter, said Fred Cole, Assistant Chief of DFG's Enforcement Branch. All have been booked in Kern County Jail.

Washington was also arrested for illegal possession of drugs. Additional suspects may be arrested pending the ongoing investigation by DFG wardens.

"Those poaching California's wildlife should be aware that their actions will not be tolerated," Cole said. "They will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Charges filed ranged from running and killing bear outside of the established season, waste of game, illegal take of deer, cruelty to animals and guiding without guide licenses. A suspect convicted of a felony conspiracy to illegally take bear is subject to a $10,000 fine and three years in state prison, Cole said.

"This operation went very smoothly," said Cole, who added that approximately 26 teams consisting of 82 DFG personnel were involved in the operation dubbed Ursus III. "We had no incidents and no one got hurt. A lot of people went to jail."

Several of the suspects are facing felony charges for conspiracy to violate wildlife laws. During the operation, five vehicles, three hound dogs, numerous bear parts and bear mounts, and several firearms were also confiscated during search warrant service at four residences by DFG officials.

During Wednesday's operations, three search warrants were served in Kern County, and one was served in Monterey County. An additional 17 clients of suspects in the illegal guiding of bear were interviewed at several locations.

The information leading to the arrests were originally generated by concerned citizens and legitimate sportsmen via DFG's CalTIP program and talking to area wardens, Cole said. By contacting the 1-888-DFG-CALTIP number to report poachers and polluters, callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.