Cagle bears down on bear-baiters

Published 11:12 am Monday, March 10, 2008

By Staff
Overtime efforts bring him a statewide award
Staff Writer
PLYMOUTH — It “never occurred” to Mark Cagle that he would become an enforcement officer with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission when one of his buddies who was an enforcement officer told him what the job was like.
At the time, he was teaching history in Farmville, which he did for seven years.
With that background and a love for outdoor pursuits, Cagle enrolled in wildlife school, graduated and spent six months receiving on-the-job training in Southport.
Today, he’s been promoted to sergeant and is stationed in Plymouth, from where he enforces the state’s wildlife regulations in three counties. He was previously stationed in Dare County, but it was for his work at his present station that he was named one of the top wildlife officers in the state this year.
As a wildlife officer, Cagle has federal authority to enforce laws that prohibit the transportation of illegally taken game across state lines and across state and federally protected land. He also has authority to police general breaches of the peace like any law-enforcement officers.
Because the animals he protects take refuge in such remote areas, Cagle is often called into the wilderness to keep tabs on them and their poachers. The black bear is among the animals that arguably keep Cagle and his team busy when it comes to protecting the species from poachers.
Policing Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, Cagle is in charge of some of the most bear-rich areas on the east coast. The high population density attracts hunters from all over the country, he said, but it also brings poachers.
Cagle also tries to catch people who hunt bear with bait, which is against the law in or out of season. A popular technique for baiting bears is called “candy hooking.” That’s what it’s called when hunters use anything from barrels filled with licorice or peppermint candy to bubble gum and peanut butter to lure bears to the slaughter.
Where do poachers get a 6-foot-tall block of chocolate? The Hershey factory in Hershey, Pa., Cagle said.
When Cagle or his officers find one of these baits, they wait, sometimes in foul weather or at night, to catch the person or people hunting over them. Recently, Cagle was named N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Wildlife Officer of the Year, partly for putting in more than 400 hours overtime to expose and break up a multi-state bear-poaching ring. That case is headed for federal court in coming months.
The objective is to catch people who are hunting or fishing illegally before they have the opportunity to harm the environment or kill an animal, Cagle said. Hunting bear over bait, if someone is convicted of doing that, carries a $2,000 fine plus a $2,232 replacement fee for each bear killed illegally.