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Illegal hunting activity put in spotlight by `bears in the air'.

Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Some poachers hunt bear, and some "bears" hunt poachers.

The term "bear in the air" is a slang phrase that refers to airborne police patrolling for speeders.

It turns out airborne bears are also very good at nabbing illegal night hunters - as several local residents recently discovered.

From vantage points in a light plane flying over a forest, Oregon State Police game law enforcement officers can see someone working a spotlight in the otherwise dark woods from 20 miles away.

It's a simple matter for the pilot to radio directions to the suspect vehicle to a trooper on the ground.

"We've probably caught about 20 spotlighters in this region since the first of September," said OSP Lt. Steve Lane of Wilsonville, who oversees game law enforcement in 13 northwest Oregon counties.

"Spotlighting" is an illegal, but highly effective, method of hunting at night.

Deer that would flee when a vehicle approaches during daylight usually freeze in their tracks when illuminated by the bright beam of a spotlight. They make easy targets.

The 1989 Oregon Legislature passed a law making it illegal to "cast an artificial light from a vehicle while armed."

That eased the burden of proof for game wardens, who previously had to observe a poacher's light actually illuminate an animal in order to cite him.

Only one aircraft is assigned to catching speeders. But OSP game officers have four planes available to help them - one each in Medford, Salem, Bend and Baker City. Those aircraft are used primarily for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife telemetry research and big game census work, Lane said.

"But when the fall seasons come around, they're used a lot for nighttime enforcement flights," he said. "Night hunting has always been a big issue with us ... the poacher out there trying to make an easy kill."

Four of the recent local spotlighting "busts" came within a one-week period, according to Sgt. Tom Hulett, who oversees game law enforcement in eastern Lane County.

On Oct. 25, air support helped trooper Marshall Maher make two different spotlighting stops in the Oakridge area.

About 2 a.m. near the Shady Beach Burn, Hulett said, Maher ticketed Bruce Abono, 55, of Eugene, for "casting an artificial light from a motor vehicle while armed." That offense carries a fine of up to $250.

A half hour later, Hulett said, the pilot directed Maher to the Tire Mountain area, where Isreal Southerland, 27, of Oakridge was cited for "hunting with the aid of an artificial light." That charge carries a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine, up to a year in jail, loss of hunting rights for two years and forfeiture of the lights and rifles used.

Hulett said the fact that "one of the rifles in the vehicle had a flashlight taped to it" led to the more serious "hunting" charge, which requires the state to demonstrate the accused intended to kill an animal.

A companion of Southerland's, Jeffrey Reed, 36, of Oakridge, was cited for "aiding in a game violation."

On Nov. 1, the plane led troopers to three stops of vehicles spotlighting in the McKenzie River basin.

Hulett issued "casting artificial light" tickets to Shane Donoho, 29, and Rory Donoho, 52, both of Springfield, after the pilot directed him to their vehicle in the Gate Creek area.

And senior trooper Kyle Elmenhurst gave `casting' tickets to three men accused of spotlighting on Weyerhaeuser's Wendling Tree Farm. Cited were Eduardo Reyes Castro, 23, and Jose David Torres, 30, both of Eugene, and Gaspar Navarrete Cervantes, 24, of Springfield.

In the third stop, no firearms or spotlight were found in the vehicle - but the trooper did arrest a passenger who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. And the next day the trooper returned to the area and found a rifle and a spotlight right where the pilot had suggested he look. That case is still open.

Obviously, however, bears make good hunters.

Mike Stahlberg can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 13, 2003
Words:674
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