Hoschton woman among bear poaching arrests

GAINESVILLE -- A Hoschton woman was a subject in a wide-ranging undercover operation by regional and federal officials that charged more than 80 people with illegal hunting and other wildlife violations.

"Operation Something Bruin" was a four-year investigation that netted its first arrests this week, including some charges that were completed on Friday, Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Melissa Cummings said. Officials targeted poachers in North Carolina and Georgia who illegally hunted bears and deer and committed an array of state wildlife and game law charges.

"It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we have sustainable natural resources for the public to enjoy for generations," said Dan Forster, director of the Georgia DNR's Wildlife Resources Division. "And particularly in these economic times, it's critical for us to work across geopolitical boundaries with other agencies to provide the best possible protection for the resource."

Cindy Clanton, 43, of Hoschton, was charged with possession of a firearm on a closed wildlife management area, hunting from a public road, hunting on a closed WMA, hunting from a motor vehicle and hunting deer at night.

The eight defendants in Georgia face 136 state charges.

The other defendants are Jerry Francis Parker, 61; Cale Stancil, 40; and Walt Stancil, 65, all of Rabun Gap; Rondal Westmoreland, 65, and Edsel Brent Thomas, 39, both of Cleveland; George Stone, 43, of Crawfordville and Jack Loyd Billingsley, 69, of Scaly Mountain, N.C.

The violations occurred in Lumpkin, Wilkes, White, Rabun, Greene, Union, Fannin and Taliaferro counties.

All but Stone had bonded out of jail by Friday, Cummings said.

The penalties are a maximum $1,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail, Cummings said.

Arrests began on Tuesday after officers with Georgia DNR and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission infiltrated poaching circles to document violations that included bear baiting, illegal taking of bears, deer and other wildlife, illegal use of dogs, illegal operation of bear pens in North Carolina and guiding hunts on national forest lands without the required permits.

Cummings said the popular baiting techniques included use of chocolate, peanut butter and honey buns.

Members of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service were partners in the operation.

A news release said Something Bruin helps agencies better train officers to catch illegal hunters.

To report a possible violation, call Georgia's Turn In Poachers (TIP) line at 1-800-241-4113.