DA files bear poaching charges against Nevada County men

Christopher Rosacker

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — Two Nevada County men have been charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes related to bear poaching.

“It happens a lot more frequently than people realize,” said Mark Michilizzi, a California Department of Fish & Wildlife warden. “It’s more common than you might think.”

Suspected bear poachers Jason Scott Wilkison, 43, of Grass Valley, and Christopher Art Nunley, 54, of North San Juan, have been the subjects of a five-month investigation, Michilizzi said.

“This bear had been killed during April of 2013, well after the bear season,” he said. “There are indications that they originally tried to butcher the bear and skin it and then tried to get rid of it.”

The Nevada County District Attorney’s Office has filed misdemeanor charges against both men for unlawful possession of a bear and unlawfully killing a bear.

Both individuals also face felony charges involving the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

While Nunley appeared in court for an arraignment Thursday and was released on his own recognizance, District Attorney Cliff Newell said an arrest warrant has been issued for Wilkison.

“We are trying to put our hooks into him,” Newell said.

To build the bear-poaching case against the duo, wildlife officers executed six separate search warrants during their nearly half-year investigation. The bear’s DNA indicated it was a female black bear, said lead investigator Jerry Karnow, also a wildlife warden.

“This case is a good example of how wildlife investigations can be very complex,” Michilizzi said.

Karnow launched the investigation after receiving reports that a bear had been unlawfully shot after being lured with bait to a residence located near Grizzly Flat in Nevada County.

“These were not hunters with a hunting license and bear tags. They just thought they could kill a bear, and it made some people that knew about it mad,” Karnow said.

The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office assisted wildlife officers in serving a series of search warrants that led to the discovery of bear remains, allegedly found in a shallow grave near Wilkison’s residence.

Additional bear remains were allegedly located at Nunley’s residence. The CDFW forensic laboratory was involved in an analysis of the blood and bear remains.

“We were not able to recover paws, the head or the whole hide,” Karnow said. “It is unique how all these body parts and the DNA puts it all together as one animal.”

Not only did Wilkison and Nunley allegedly kill the bear months after the end of bear season, but to lure bears using bait is illegal, Michilizzi said.

“I won’t call them hunters because they are not,” Newell said.

Additionally, as Wilkison and Nunley are both convicted felons, both individuals are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition, Newell noted — hence the felony possession of firearms charges.

Wilkison’s court cases in Nevada County date back to 1999 with a prior possession of firearm by a felon charge.

Nunley’s record stems back to 1984 and includes possession of controlled substances and a driving under the influence charge, according to court records.

Nunley was recently arrested in July after a tip led authorities to his residence on the 20000 block of Walls Flat Road, where they discovered guns, ammunition and a home-made battle mace, which is a spiked ball attached to a chain.

Karnow said that July arrest stemmed from the bear-poaching investigation.

“This bear case was a catalyst for opening (other) potential crimes,” Michilizzi said.

Karnow indicated that a third party may have been involved with the poaching. Michilizzi also said the ongoing investigation could yield further arrests and charges.

“It’s a matter of further investigation,” he said.

A bear foot was mistaken for a human’s at the Nevada County Transfer Station on Halloween, but Karnow said it was not the same animal.

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