A black bear explores a garbage can in Asheville. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

This story originally appeared here and is published by Carolina Public Press through a content-sharing agreement with The Charlotte Observer.

By Bruce Henderson, bhenderson@charlotteobserver.com

State and federal wildlife officials began making arrests Tuesday following a four-year investigation of bear poachers in North Carolina and Georgia.

The undercover operation dubbed Operation Something Bruin involved more than 80 violators and up to 900 violations, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said. Most charges are linked to illegal bear hunting but some relate to other wildlife.

The North Carolina commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said they documented violations including bear baiting, illegal take of bears, deer and other wildlife, illegal use of dogs, illegal bear enclosures and guided hunts in national forests without permits.

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service helped the investigation.

Bear hunting is popular in North Carolina, both with the use of dogs and by still hunting. The N.C. wildlife commission estimates there are about 15,500 active bear hunters in the state. In the 2011-12 hunting season, 2,775 bears were legally taken.

The state’s bear population of about 16,000 animals is growing at 6 percent a year, in part due to the animals’ adaptability.

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