El Dorado County Bear Poachers Get Fines & 30 Days Jail

Two Amador County men found earlier this year with numerous bear claws and bear gall bladders have been given what the California Department of Fish and Wildlife calls “stiff sentences.”

Pioneer resident Peter George Vitali, 56, and River Pines resident Arthur Martin Blake, 59, pleaded no contest last month in an El Dorado County court to misdemeanor charges of “illegally taking wildlife for profit,” the department said in a press release.

Vital will pay a $12,500 fine and Blake will pay a $5,000 fine. Both men will serve 30 days in jail and three years probation.

“Heavy fines and jail time send a strong message to poachers who unlawfully take and profit from California’s natural resources,” the release quoted California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. Stacey LaFave as saying.

In April, the two men were found in the El Dorado National Forest with 20 large bear claws and three gall bladders from bears, according to the department. They were arrested by Fish and Wildlife officers, and the department determined the pair had recently killed three bears: likely an adult female and two cubs.

“The claws, liver and gall bladder had been removed from the sow and only the liver and gall bladder were removed from the younger two bears,” the department said.

Some believe the bile inside bear gall bladders has medicinal properties, according to the press release. The organs are sold on the black market, and anyone found with more than one is considered to be attempting to sell them, according to the department.

A San Francisco Chronicle outdoors writer welcomed the news of the sentence, saying California poachers often got slaps on the wrist or no punishment at all in the past.

“The worst case I remember was in the 1980s when a poacher was caught in San Francisco illegally selling sturgeon out of the back of a pickup truck,” Tom Stienstra wrote. “The judge fined him $50 and ordered him to use his boat to take kids fishing.”

An Alameda County judge once dismissed 500 wildlife crimes in a single year in the ’90s “to clear his calendar,” Stienstra wrote, saying those times “appear gone.”

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