Six more Upstate men have been arrested on charges involving illegal bear hunting in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties, bringing the total to 13 arrests that grew out of a four-year undercover operation conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Five of the six faced multiple illegal hunting charges:
· William Rufus “Billy” Ellenburg of Pickens was charged with 11 counts of violating state game laws, including hunting without consent on lands of others and conspiracy to hunt without consent, hunting bears in a baited area and conspiracy to hunt in a baited area, baiting bears, killing a sow with cubs and conspiracy to kill a sow with cubs, abuse of Wildlife Management Area land, killing undersized bears and two counts of conspiracy to kill under-sized bears.
· Ben Davis of Central was charged with four counts, including hunting without consent on lands of others and conspiracy to hunt without consent, and hunting bears in a baited area and conspiracy to hunt in a baited area.
· John Roland Dickson of Liberty was charged with four counts, including hunting bears in a baited area and conspiracy to hunt in a baited area, and hunting without consent on the land of others and conspiracy to hunt without consent.
· Michael R. Smith of Easley was charged with three counts, including conspiracy to run bears out of season, bear baiting and unlawful possession of captive bears.
· Mike Mills of Marietta was charged with one count of conspiracy to run bears out of season.
The sixth, James Robert Grumbles of Travelers Rest was charged with ill treatment of animals. Officers said he allowed captive bears to be used to train bear dogs, allowing them to repeatedly attack and bite the bears.
Grumbles 65, pleaded guilty to mistreating animals and agreed to give up the three bears he kept caged in a remote area north of Greenville. He was originally charged with a felony count of animal cruelty but pleaded to the misdemeanor charge in exchange for giving up the bears, which will be sent to a wildlife preserve in Colorado, according to Capt. Robert McCullough, an SCDNR spokesman.
Grumbles' bears were three of seven captive bears remaining in South Carolina that have been used in “bear-baying contests.” While bear-baying is not illegal, the SCDNR has stopped issuing captive bear permits; once the other four bears die or are removed from their owners, the practice will effectively be stopped.
This was the second series of arrests in what McCullough described as “an ongoing investigation that will probably reach further than it has.”
The undercover officers began hanging out with the groups in their camps during bear season and gathered information over the past four years, McCullough said.
The arrests began a month ago when six upstate men charged with various offenses growing out of the undercover operation. They included:
Charles Claude Blowers, 63, of Sunset, on a charge of baiting; David Winston Brown, 41, of Liberty, killing an undersized bear; Ty Cooper Mills, 23, of Marietta, killing a sow with cubs; Thomas Elliot Mann, 35, of Travelers Rest, conspiracy; Jason Russell Sullivan, 27, of Six Mile, conspiracy and license violation; Wesley Caylor Hedden, 34, of Pickens, distribution of marijuana; and Sherwood L. Patterson, 64. of Seneca, conspiracy and trespass.