When a father-and-son hunting pair from Alaska poached a black bear mother and her two newborn cubs in their den last year, they initially seemed to get away with it.
There was little chance for witnesses on a remote island off Alaska’s southern coast. The hunters traveled there by boat, strapping on backcountry skis to reach the bear den. But a motion-activated camera, being used for wildlife research, captured the hunters’ actions on the island, the authorities said.
This week, after pleading guilty to various poaching charges, the father, Andrew Renner, a 41-year-old from Wasilla, Alaska, was sentenced to three months in jail and banned from hunting for a decade, said Aaron Peterson, the state’s assistant attorney general, who prosecuted the case. His son Owen Renner, 18, received a 30-day suspended sentence and was required to perform community service.
Based on state law, killing a mother bear or bear cubs is a crime. But Mr. Peterson said that defendants in poaching cases rarely get jail time. That’s because hunters often argue that they poached an animal by mistake and typically have no criminal record, he said.
In the case of the Renners, however, Mr. Peterson said in a phone interview, he felt the crime was so egregious that he asked for jail time.
“What they did in this case was shoot two newborn bear cubs who couldn’t escape,” he said. “They had no way of getting out of that den. They were completely at the mercy of the Renners.”
Based on the camera footage, which was summarized by prosecutors in a news release, Andrew Renner and his son approached the den on Esther Island, in Prince William Sound, on April 14. Owen Renner fatally shot the sleeping mother bear with a rifle, prosecutors said, causing the cubs to start shrieking inside the den.
Andrew Renner then fatally shot the cubs.
Prosecutors said the recovered video footage showed the Renners butchering the mother bear and taking the remains away in bags. Two days later, the camera caught them returning to the area to collect the bullet shells and dispose of the bear cubs’ bodies, according to a report from Alaska’s Department of Public Safety.
Andrew Renner’s lawyer declined to comment. His son’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Because the mother bear was being studied by the United States Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, she wore a GPS-enabled collar. About two weeks after the Renners shot the bear family, Andrew Renner took that collar and the mother bear’s skin to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game site, claiming that he had mistakenly shot her and did not realize she was a mother until he noticed she had teats, the Department of Public Safety report said. He also claimed that there were no cubs in the den.
It was not until August that the Renners were charged with poaching, according to the report.
Charlotte Westing, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who runs the black bear study, said the cameras were installed to keep researchers apprised of whether the bears have cubs.
According to a report on the black bear study published this month, the researchers have placed collars on about four dozen black bears on two islands in Prince William Sound. The collar logs geographical positioning every five hours, providing a detailed map of the area that the bears traverse.
By chance, a camera captured a crime that is often not brought to light because the forest provides cover. “What happens in the woods is often just between the person and their actions,” Ms. Westing said.
Both the father and the son pleaded guilty to several misdemeanor charges related to the poaching, Mr. Peterson said. Andrew Renner also pleaded guilty to falsifying documentation related to the bear killings.
In addition to setting the three-month jail sentence, an Alaska District Court judge fined Andrew Renner $ 9,000 and ordered that he must forfeit his boat, pickup truck, guns, iPhones and skis, prosecutors said. Owen Renner’s hunting license will be suspended for two years.