Getty Images, Michel VIARD

GPS Tracker Bamboozles Montana Grizzly Poacher

He faces 20 years in prison and over $250,000 in fines for the alleged crime.

On January 22, a Troy, Montana man filed a plea agreement with the US District Court for the District of Montana after he was caught in one of the most egregious coverups for poaching that we've heard.

According to a press release from the US Attorney's Office, Othel Lee Pearson, 80, allegedly shot a sow grizzly bear in November of 2020, using his scoped .270 Winchester Model 70 Featherlite. He potentially shot the bear through the window of his home in Troy.

A game warden subsequently found a grizzly bear carcass dumped on Pine Creek Road near  Yaak, Montana, an hour south of Troy, on November 23, 2020. The carcass had been partially skinned and was missing two front quarters and its paws.

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That particular sow had also been microchipped and had worn a GPS collar, though the collar was missing from the carcass. The bear had also had two white ear tags and an interior lip tattoo to help identify her; both had been cut from the bear.

It only took 9 days for federal wildlife officials to find the track back to Pearson. The missing GPS collar was found in the Yaak River on December 2, 2020. Data from the collar let wildlife officials back to the exact spot the bear had died: Pearson's backyard.

On December 16, federal agents executed a search warrant on Pearson's home. While Pearson denied killing the sow, the agents found bloody snow outside what was essentially a shooting gallery, with open windows that looked out onto baited sites on the property, and .270 casings on the floor.

Further investigation revealed animal tissue in Pearson's house and in his truck that matches the sow, as well as a bag of the sow's meat in Pearson's freezer, labeled "Ham."

Pearson's coverup didn't stop there, though. On April 27, 2022, a hiker found a trash bag stashed in a hollow tree near Pearson's property. The bag contained ten grizzly bear claws and a single white ear tag, numbered 934. The claws and the tag are both linked to the sow found in Yaak.

After nearly three years, Pearson has been charged with tampering with evidence, a felony, and failure to report taking the grizzly bear, a misdemeanor. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for the felony, and an additional 6 months in prison and a $25,000 fine for the misdemeanor charges.

His plea agreement, if accepted, would reduce his sentence to 3 years of probation and a $8,000 fine. The agreement would also ensure that his wife, Marcia Pearson, would not be investigated or prosecuted for her alleged involvement in the incident.

Grizzly bears, once nearly extinct in the Lower 48, have been making a slow comeback in some western states, such as Montana, thanks to exhaustive reintroduction efforts. They are protected by the Endangered Species Act, although Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have all lobbied to remove protections from the bears.

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