Two Alaska men were confident they’d get away with slaughtering a black bear and her cubs last year — a fact prosecutors know because the crime and coverup were caught on camera.
In April 2018, Andrew Renner and his son Owen skied up to an Esther Island black bear den, where a mother was hibernating with two newborn cubs, Alaska Department of Public Safety video obtained and released by the Humane Society shows. The father and son then began shooting into the den, prosecutors said.
After the initial shots, the men peered into the dark enclosure as the bears shrieked inside. One man raised his gun and fired at them another time, video shows. Whimpering and screaming continued to come from the den but died down after the men fired into the den again.
Next the men tugged at the mother bear together — on the count of “one, two, three” — to drag her out of the den and into the snow, sharing a bloody high-five once they were successful. The son posed shirtless with the bear’s lifeless body in another video clip. He held the animal’s arm as his father appeared to snap a picture of him.
“They’ll never be able to link it to us,” the younger Renner said in one clip.
The 41-year-old father and 18-year-old son, both of Wasilla, were sentenced to months in prison and fined thousands of dollars in January after they pleaded guilty to illegally killing the bear and her two newborns, the Anchorage Daily News reported. State prosecutor Aaron Peterson described the slaughter as “the most egregious bear cub poaching case his office has ever seen,” according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
The camera that captured the illegal acts had been put in place as part of a U.S. Forest Service and Alaska fish and game department study on the bears, according to the Human Society. Movement in front of the camera activated it.
“You and me don’t f--- around,” the son said in one exchange caught on camera. “We pretty much go where we want to kill s---.”
Video caught the men returning to the den later, where they gathered spent shell casings and put the bears’ small bodies in plastic bags. Those 30-second video clips were used as evidence in the case against the men, according to the attorney general’s office.
The Humane Society said it released the video this week to highlight the impact that a new policy the Trump administration is pursuing would have on bears in Alaska’s national preserve lands.
“The Renners’ actions demonstrate the ruthless brutality that the government is poised to enact into law on millions of acres in Alaska, overturning a 2015 Obama-era rule that prohibits the killing of black bear mothers and cubs in their dens on these lands,” Humane Society President Kitty Block said in a statement.
According to the Humane Society, the new policy seeks to expand the areas in Alaska where it’s legal to kill a denning mother bear and her cubs. Doing so was illegal where the Renners were caught on camera poaching, but isn’t illegal in all parts of the state — and could become legal on national preserves under the proposed policy, the animal rights group said.
“It is too sad and too late for this mom and her babies, but not too late for the government to abandon this heartless plan to enable such killing and instead maintain the rules that protect America’s iconic wildlife,” Block said.
The National Park Service announced the proposed rule change last May as a way “to establish better consistency with the state.”
“The conservation of wildlife and habitat for future generations is a goal we share with Alaska,” National Park Service Regional Director Bert Frost said in a statement. “This proposed rule will reconsider NPS efforts in Alaska for improved alignment of hunting regulations on national preserves with State of Alaska regulations.”
Alaska’s delegation in Congress praised the Trump administration for the proposed rule change last year.
“This is a long-awaited and welcomed announcement from the National Park Service,” Republican Rep. Don Young said in a statement. “I am pleased by this decision to correct an illegal Obama-era power grab.”