Monroe County Wildlife Officers along with USDA Forest Service Officers from the Cherokee National Forest have closed a bear baiting case. The Forest Service and TWRA work closely when dealing with issues on the South Cherokee Wildlife Management Area, which is part of the Cherokee National Forest.
A bear bait site was located and documented in 2016 in the Cherokee National Forest, South Cherokee WMA. It is illegal to place bait on a WMA and to hunt any big game over bait anywhere in the state of Tennessee.
In 2018, another illegal bear bait site was located, which was almost identical to the one documented in 2016. Wire was strung around 5 feet high between two trees. Plastic grocery bags were tied along the wire and the bags were filled with a mixture of chocolate candies and, at times, meat products. Sardine cans and carcass remnants were also nailed to trees within the site.
In mid-2018, TWRA and Forest Service officers discovered a large baited steel cage trap. Trees had also been cut to make a trigger for the steel cage trap. Officers determined five different individuals had hunted, placed bait, installed and checked the trap at this site.
Wildlife officers were able to identify the five individuals as Terry Worth McJunkin, Kieth Bernard McJunkin, Rollie Kimsey West, Levi Zachary Wilson and Joseph Don Taylo. All individuals are from Tellico Plains. Later in the year, officers identified a sixth person as Derrick Franklin Cathey of Tellico Plains.
Wildlife officers, along with the dedicated determination of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, determined that evidence was conclusive enough for prosecution in federal court. Officers confiscated illegal bait, the large steel cage trap and trail cameras at the site.
Terry Worth McJunkin, Keith Bernard McJunkin, Rollie Kimsey West, Levi Zachary Wilson, Joseph Don Taylor and Derrick Franklin Cathey were charged with wildlife crimes ranging from hunting over bait, placing bait on Wildlife Management Area, hunting big game in closed season, trapping in closed season, destroying government property and maintaining a trail on National Forest system land.
On Sept. 4, 2019, Keith Bernard McJunkin, 59, of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, and Levi Zachary Wilson, 31, of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, were found guilty by the Honorable H. Bruce Guyton, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge, of baiting bears inside the Cherokee National Forest. Each defendant was sentenced to two years of probation and banned from hunting anywhere or entering any national forest for a period of two years. Keith McJunkin was also ordered to pay $1,600 in fines, and Levi Wilson was ordered to pay $1,100 in fines.
Keith McJunkin and Levi Wilson were two members of a group of hunters from Tellico Plains who baited and trapped bears inside the Cherokee National Forest in July and August of 2018. Terry Worth McJunkin, 37, Joseph Don Taylor, 38, and Derrick F. Cathey, 32, each previously pleaded guilty to hunting bear over bait.
Terry McJunkin was sentenced to five years of probation with a five-year hunting ban and five-year national forest ban and ordered to pay $4,000 in fines. Joseph Taylor and Derrick Cathey were each sentenced to two years of probation with a one-year hunting ban and one-year national forest ban. Joseph Taylor was also ordered to pay $3,000 in fines and $250 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service. Derrick Cathey was ordered to pay $250 in fines.
Officer Kip Kite stated, “All officers involved are to be commended for stopping this illegal, poaching activity. We’re grateful for the tremendous partnership with the Forest Service and we are determined to continue efforts to halt all poaching, illegal activity on all our Wildlife Management Areas and National Forest lands. We’re grateful for the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their effort in prosecuting wildlife cases.”