Federal and state agents began making arrests yesterday in a crackdown on out-of-season black bear hunting in Virginia and elsewhere, mostly in the southern Appalachian Mountains, and illegal trafficking in bear hides.
Late in the day, 19 search warrants had been executed in 12 states and trophies and animal parts had been seized.
An official of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "We may have 30 to 35 people charged eventually."
The suspected poaching of approximately 100 black bears in the Southern Appalachians was revealed during a four-year undercover operation, said Frank Dunkle, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Illegally acquired bear parts frequently were sold commercially, with hides bringing up to $250 each, while gall bladders valued for medicinal purposes in some Far East countries sold for prices ranging up to $300.
Fish and Wildlife Service special agents established a firm known as the Abrams Creek Outfitters in Purcellville, about 50 miles from Washington, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
They advertised the bogus storefront office as a booking agency through which hunters could arrange big game trips. Agents posed as outfitters, bear hunters and buyers of bear pelts, officials said.