UPDATED 1:43 P.M. JULY 17, 2012 with comments from the defendant’s attorney as well as his apology: An Eatonville, Wash., man must pay $12,000, serve six days in jail and 20 days on electronic home monitoring, and will have his hunting privileges suspended for five years as part of a deal for pleading guilty to baiting bears in western Okanogan County.
Last Friday morning James L. Erickson, 52, copped to 14 counts of bear baiting for 14 weekend trips he took to his cabin north of Winthrop in 2010 and 2011 to pile up meats, sweets and other foods to bring in bruins, and three counts of illegally hunting bears over it.
The bait site was so well visited that officers believe that at one point a dozen different bears may have been using it, and one game warden says that it may have led to a bump in bear complaints in the area.
The case was featured in the June issue of Northwest Sportsman and in our blog here.
Game wardens had long suspected fishy business at the cabin up Little Cub Creek, but it wasn’t until last summer that they were able to gather hard evidence.
After getting a search warrant, they were able to watch through one of his trail cameras as he routinely serviced his bait pile with “dead birds, fat, grease, bear attractant, salmon, trout, other game fish, donuts, grain, corn, and dead stock animals,” according to court papers.
The birds and stock animals included numerous breasted-out ducks and ruffed grouse, a “butchered pig and four baby pigs.” He also used salt and mineral licks, and last August put three whole salmon on the pile.
“The stench in the area was extremely bad from rotting meat,” a report from a game warden reads.
Then, in early September, Erickson killed a large boar over it.
Search warrants served on the cabin and his home turned up over 1,000 images of baiting as well as written records of the practice.
Charged in Okanogan County District Court in early April, he plead not guilty later that month.
Since then a plea deal was worked out.
Part of it required Erickson to write an apology to the state — not the court, as we previously reported this morning.
A copy of the letter, provided by his attorney, John Brangwin of Woods & Brangwin in Wenatchee, reads:
Before Erickson was arraigned on the 38 original charges of illegal bear baiting and hunting, Brangwin predicted that “most of the air will come out of the balloon” of the state’s case, and to a degree that occurred. Twenty counts of baiting and one of illegal hunting were dropped as part of the agreement.
Brangwin describes his client as remorseful.
“The tar and feather job DFW gave him was over the top,” he said by email.
Charges against five co-defendants, including three family members, were also dismissed.
“To use an astronomy metaphor, Mr. Erickson was the sun, and at times other defendants were like planets swept briefly into the orbit of his bear-baiting activities,” court papers say.
But he didn’t exactly get away with a slap on the wrist, even if, like Brangwin notes, 63 percent of the charges against him were dumped. For Erickson, baiting was a black hole that will cost him dearly in terms of money and lost hunting privileges.
“I just don’t think that this guy has much regard for hunting and fishing laws in general,” said Mike Cenci, deputy chief for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, referring to statements he says Erickson made during his court appearance about the legality of bear baiting in Idaho and B.C.
“Nobody else is allowed to hunt bear that way, regardless of whether you think that regulation makes any sense to you or not. We had a citizen initiative that made it illegal. You don’t get to pick and choose which rules you play by,” said Cenci.
Bear baiting along with hound hunting for cougars and bruins was banned in Washington by a 1996 vote, not exactly a “new” law as stated in Erickson’s apology.
His monetary penalty breaks down thusly:
$350 for each count of unlawful bear baiting — $4,900
$350 for each count of unlawful hunting — $1,150
$2,000 civil criminal penalty for each count of unlawful hunting — $6,000
$500 restitution to a neighbor for stealing a trail camera she’d set up to figure out who was cutting the locks off gates on her land.
Game wardens seized Erickson’s 2007 Suburban he used to transport bait and the big bear, the .338 Winchester topped with a 4×16 Nikon Monarch scope he used to kill it, and the Adirondack chair he sat on behind a makeshift blind on the porch of the cabin and shot it from.
Brangwin says that as part of the settlement WDFW may end up keeping the rig but return the gun and some other property.
Sgt. Jim Brown, chief warden in Okanogan County, says he can’t prove it, but Erickson’s own records of baiting — thousands of images and a cabin diary — are echoed by bear complaints in the upper Methow Valley.
“We believe his bait site was sucking bears in. I think it was causing bear problems in Mazama. We had corresponding problems with multiple bears in the same timeframe that we don’t have before and haven’t had since,” he says. “We were dealing with spin-off problems with bears in cars right over the hill.”
Brown says that Erickson basically baited until a big enough bear came around and then shot it.
“(Officer) Dan Christensen thinks we had 12 different bears coming in, based on photos,” he says.
Not exactly the model hunter, or model hunting behavior.
For more (actually, less) on the case, see these other news outlets’ articles: