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These bear paws were seized from an Asian market in Brooklyn last year (Source:  NYS DEC)
These bear paws were seized from an Asian market in Brooklyn last year (Source: NYS DEC)

New law regulates North Country trade in black bear parts for Asian markets

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When black bear hunters head back into the woods this fall, they'll face new regulations that require them to document any parts of the animal that they plan to sell.

The new law went into effect this year. It's designed to help state and Federal officials crack down on black bear poaching.

It's still legal for hunters in New York to sell bear parts for use in Asian medicine and cooking, but the trade will be much more closely monitored.

Brian Mann has our story.

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DEC officials say this bear in Ulster County was poached and stripped of its gall bladder and paws, with the rest of the carcass abandoned (Source:  Dick Nelson Hudson/Catskills Newspapers, used by permission)

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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When you drive through Keene, it’s hard to imagine that this tiny mountain town is part of a trade network that supplies Asian apothecaries and restaurants from New York City to Seoul and Beijing.

“When we buy bear galls, we’re one of the largest buyers in the East," said Bud Piserchia, who runs North Country Taxidermy.  He stood in his workshop surrounded by deer heads and stuffed bobcats.  His main business is mounting wild animal trophies. 

But every year, he also collects dozens of tiny black bear gall bladders.  His clients are mostly Korean and they arrive by car from New York City.

“Say we’ll have fifty galls in a bag and we’ll spread them out.  And everybody’s got a different need.  We have some people come in to by 20 galls or more and obviously they’re a dealer.  We also have Ma and Pa come up and they’ll be two galls.  That’s obviously for their own consumption.”

Piserchia actually hangs a sign on his shop written in Korean advertising the availability of gall bladders.

Galls are used in traditional Asian medicine to treat a variety of ailments.  In a busy year, Piserchia will harvest the little lumps of tissue from more than 150 black bears.

This trade – and the trade in black bear paws used in Chinese soup – are legal.  Until this year it was completly unregulated in New York state it was completely unregulated.

But Captain Lawrence DiDonato with the state’s environment police, based in Ray Brook, said wildlife experts were worried that some animal parts were winding up on the black market.

“We have documented at least some cases where bears have been killed and just galls and paws have been taken," he said.

Black bear populations are stable and even rising in New York.  But DiDonato says poaching has been a nagging problem for years.

“We receive 66 complaints since 2008 about bear poaching in general – some of those complaints involve bear parts.”

State officials say until now it was impossible for law enforcement to tell which bear parts found in markets in New York City were taken legally.

Other states also complained that hunters were claiming that bear parts were taken from animals killed in New York.  There was no way to verify whether that was true.

Under the new rules, dealers like Bud Piserchia will have to document the source of each animal part being sold.

"At the end of the season, we have to give a summary.  And in that summary we have to have the name address of the hunter and all the information of the person who buys from us.  That's the only thing that changed.  They haven't outlawed bear galls."

Hunters didn’t raise objections to the new rules.  But some sportsmen, including Bob Brown with the New York State Conservation Council, say they doubt poaching for animal parts was a serious problem.

Black bears are just too hard to hunt, Brown says.  And he thinks the price for bear parts – a few hundred dollars per animal – isn’t high enough to justify the effort.

"There was not a lot of bear hunting with that idea in mind.  Bears are nocturnal and very difficult to find, so it hasn't been an issue."

But Heidi Kretser with the Wildlife Conservation Society says this law will help New York state get a better picture of how much of the gall bladder trade is happening legally.

"I think that the new legislation is actually a really good step in the right direction in terms of illegal poacing of black bears.  Wildlife trade writ large, poaching is hugely a problem.  It's one of the largest threates to wildlife worldwide."

Some environmentalists wanted the state to go further, pushing for an outright ban on the sale of black bear parts.  But there were fears that that would drive the trade underground, making it more difficult to monitor.  Bud Piserchia says he thinks the market for gall bladders is healthy if the black bears are taken legally.

"The state of New York wants to utilize the entire bear.  They don't want anything thrown away.  It's a resouce. Whether it's the hide, the claws, the meat, whatever it is — they want something to happen to it."

One other concern here is whether the DEC will have the enforcement staff to monitor whether hunters and dealers comply with the new rule. 

Staff cuts have sharply reduced the Conservation Department’s field staff.  Again Heidi Kretser with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"I have seen in places where they have invested in enforcement and regulation, it makes a big difference.  But in places where there's not that enforcement and regulation, what we don't know, we don't know.  Poaching could be going on right under our noses,and we just have no idea because there's no way of enforcing it or regulating it."

The fine for hunters and dealers who can’t document the source of black bear parts will run as high as $5,000.

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