Ninety poachers charged in sweep

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Last week’s much publicized roundup of 90 poaching suspects across Georgia and North Carolina has some sobering links to several east Georgia counties near Augusta.

Video: Augusta Outdoors
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Much of the operation, code-named “Something Bruin,” involved illegal bear hunting, but there were lots of whitetail charges as well.

Although most 980 charges are misdemeanors, wildlife authorities want the public to understand the broad impacts poachers can have on wildlife populations – and how poaching affects lawful hunting opportunities that our resource agencies are trying to manage for everyone.

According to Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division, one of the Georgia suspects, 39-year-old Brent Thomas, of Cleveland, Ga., is facing more than 100 charges, including many accusations that occurred in Taliaferro and Wilkes counties.

The list of offenses in those and other counties includes hunting deer at night, hunting from public roads, hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting in closed wildlife management areas, hunting with an illegal weapon, hunting over bait, violating the open container law and others too numerous to list.

Col. Eddie Henderson, chief of law enforcement for DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, referred to Thomas as “a poaching machine,” in an interview with the Atlanta Journal- Constitution.

A Crawfordville man, 43-year-old George Stone, was also among the suspects and was charged with possession of whitetail deer without game holding permit, authorities said.

Other Georgia suspects, all facing multiple violations, were: Cindy Clanton, 43, of Hoschton; Rondal Westmoreland, 65, of Cleveland; Cale Stancil, 40, and 65-year-old Walter Stancil, both of Rabun Gap; Jerry Parker, 61, of Rabun Gap. Also arrested by Georgia authorities was 69-year-old Jack Lloyd Billingsley, of Scaly Mountain, N.C., for offenses that occurred in Georgia.

ABERNETHY HONORED: South Carolina biologist Robert Abernethy, who helped lead the National Wild Turkey Federation’s successful quest to restore the wild turkey throughout North America, was honored recently with the organization’s Henry S. Mosby Award, named for the founder of The Wildlife Society whose work set the standard for turkey management programs.

Abernethy, who saw and harvested his first turkey more than 30 years ago in Louisiana, served as NWTF’s director of agency programs for 17 years.

Among the initiatives he directed were the trap and transfer of turkeys throughout the continent, development of a timber stewardship program with the USDA Forest Service and the growth of the federation’s staff of biologists from four to more than 50.

“I don’t know anybody who has done more to help the wild turkey in the last 17 years than Robert,” said NWTF Chief Conservation Officer James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D.

Abernethy is now president of Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Alabama that focuses on planting longleaf pines to create ideal wildlife habitat.

COYOTE KINDNESS?: How do you control pet-snatching coyotes in a beach town like Tybee Island?

If you listen to the Humane Society of the United States, you might try shaking a sippy cup full of pennies.

According to the Savannah Morning News, that was one option offered by the anti-hunting group’s “wildlife specialist” during a presentation last week.

“Wave your arms and yell, ‘Go away coyote.’ If that’s too silly use a whistle or an air horn, or a sippy cup filled with pennies,” Lynsey White Dasher told residents during the event organized by the town’s City council, which also authorized its police department to buy a tranquilizer gun last month.

Well, good luck with that!

HYDRILLA WAR: Any way you look at it, there is a grass war brewing beneath the vast, cold waters of Thurmond Lake.

The culprit is hydrilla, a lovely but problematic and invasive weed that was discovered in the reservoir in 1995.

Since then, the infestation has expanded to almost 5,000 acres, including about 640 miles of shoreline.

The good news is that the weed provides cover for fish and choice casting spots for anglers. Waterfowl also use the dense mats, which pleases hunters.

But the dark side of the lush, green growth is the microscopic algae bloom that creeps along its stems, forming a neurotoxin that is killing the bald eagles that nest along the lake’s forested shorelines each winter.

The condition, known as avian vacuolar myelinopathy, or AVM, creates brain lesions that infect small waterfowl known as coots, which are a preferred food of eagles.

Biologists have documented at least 60 eagle deaths at Thurmond Lake alone, including one case this winter in which a female eagle was found dead, still sitting in her treetop nest.

All this is old news, of course, but after several years of study and preparation, the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to explore options to control hydrilla.

The main solution under study involves introducing sterile grass carp into the lake, in hopes that the fish will eat enough hydrilla to stop its spread and reduce eagle mortality.

Officials in South Carolina seem to favor the idea, while Georgia authorities have voiced concerns that the carp will also consume native vegetation in the lake, further altering its environment.

The Corps of Engineers isn’t as likely to do anything if resource agencies on one side or the other disagree – which is where the next step comes in.

Last week after several years of preparation, University of Georgia scientists mailed out surveys to more than 8,000 lake stakeholders, including landowners, dock permit holders, hunting and fishing license purchasers and others.

The study’s purpose is to seek opinions on hydrilla and sterile grass carp, said Susan Wilde, an assistant professor at University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry, who is managing the survey.

The results, according to her cover letter, will be used to help the corps adopt a management plan that can balance both the needs of the lake and those of individuals who use the resource.

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