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HARRISBURG – When is the largest bear killed in Pennsylvania’s bear season not the largest bear harvested? When it is the largest bear killed over bait, which equals poaching. That’s what happened when Charles W. Olsen Jr., of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, decided that it’d be easier to kill a bear over a pile of pastries, rather than the method used by ethical hunters.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Cory Bentzoni became suspicious when he saw a truck loaded with pastries from a local store driving along Route 309 in Dallas, Luzerne County.
“As we were about one week away from the opening of the statewide bear season, I thought that something illegal might be underway,” WCO Bentzoni said. “Being that we were so close to bear season, seeing that person drive by with an unusual amount of pastries was like watching an individual go down a row of parked vehicles testing each handle to see if it were open. Something just didn’t seem right.”
Bentzoni wrote down the vehicle license plate of the truck and found that it was registered to Olsen. He then instructed all Game Commission personnel operating bear check stations throughout the region to notify him if Olsen brought a bear into any one of the check stations.
Sure enough, on Nov. 25, Olsen brought a bear with an estimated live weight of 707-pound into the bear check station at the Northeast Region Office in Dallas, Luzerne County. Wyoming County WCO Vic Rosa was immediately contacted by the Northeast Region Office, since Olsen reportedly harvested the bear in Noxen Township, Wyoming County.
Northeast Region Land Management Supervisor Peter Sussenbach, who also was aware of the tip provided by WCO Bentzoni, approached Olsen and said “there might be a problem with this bear.” At that point, Olsen confessed that he had killed the bear over a bait pile.
“What is most unfortunate is that law-abiding bear hunters in the area were robbed of the opportunity to legally harvest truly a trophy bear by fair chase means,” said Northeast Region Law Enforcement Supervisor Dan Figured. “It was thanks to the quick thinking of an observant Wildlife Conservation Officer, and some basic investigative work, that helped resolve this case.”
WCO Rosa plans to file charges of illegally killing a bear over bait later this week. If found guilty, Olsen faces fines and penalties of between $500 and $1,500, as well as the loss of hunting/trapping privileges for at least three years. In addition to criminal fines in this case, the Game Commission intends to request from the judge restitution for this trophy-class bear, which could amount to $5,000. The enhanced restitution was adopted into regulations by the Board of Game Commissioners last year as another tool to deter those who would steal Pennsylvania’s wildlife.