As a recent court case illustrates, people convicted of poaching animals on national park property face stiff penalties. Two North Carolina men who pleaded guilty to killing a bear on the Blue Ridge Parkway were given prison time to reflect on the error of their ways.
A goodly number of the estimated 10,000 or so black bears that inhabit the mountains of Western North Carolina can be found on or near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although bears can be legally hunted on public and private lands throughout much of the region, they are protected on parkway property. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they cannot be shot. Poachers kill an unknown, but significant number of bears on the parkway each year.
Some bears are killed for sport, but commercial poaching (which may be linked to regional-scale poaching rings) is also a problem in Western North Carolina. There is a lucrative, mostly overseas market for bear paws and gallbladders. The paws are used to make an expensive Asian delicacy called bear paw soup, which sells for up to several hundred dollars a bowl. The dried and ground-up gallbladders, which are used in traditional Asian medicine, can be worth their weight in gold .
Since it’s very difficult for enforcement rangers to patrol a long, narrow property like the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s fairly easy for poachers to escape detection and arrest. Nevertheless, poachers do get caught red-handed on the parkway from time to time, and when they are convicted of Lacey Act violations they get penalties that are anything but a slap on the wrist. In addition to stiff fines, restitution payments, and personal property seizures (vehicles and weapons used in the crime), they are subject to prison sentences and personal restrictions or bans.
Take the case of two Jackson County, North Carolina men who recently pleaded guilty in federal court to killing a black bear on the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 429 (Haywood County) in July 2008. The judge sentenced both men to ten months in prison followed by one year of supervised release with a ban on hunting, fishing, and firearms possession. Both men are to be banned from federal lands during their supervised release, and one of them was also prohibited from possessing or owning dogs during that time.