Man pleads guilty to poaching black bear on reservation

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A man accused of shooting a 700-pound black bear on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota and removing its head pleaded guilty Thursday, although his lawyer alleges that only half of the federal government’s story is accurate.

Brett Stimac, 41, of Brainerd, Minnesota, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of wildlife trafficking and trespassing on Indian land for the September 2019 incident, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Minnesota. Prosecutors have said Stimack killed the bear with a compound bow near the reservation’s garbage dump and came back later to remove the bear’s head for a trophy.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians does not permit non-Indians to hunt bear, a clan animal, within the boundaries of the reservation, due to the bear’s spiritual significance to the tribe, prosecutors said. Stimac isn’t an enrolled member of tribe.

Stimac’s attorney, Brian Toder, said Stimac originally lied about shooting the bear, but the animal was already dead when his client found it. Toder on Thursday told The Associated Press that he will make that argument at a sentencing hearing that has not yet been scheduled.

“That doesn’t make him not guilty of violating the charges, but the facts are considerably different than when this was first brought to everyone’s attention,” Toder added. “My client came upon a dead bear, is what happened. It had been dead for a while, actually. He did make up a story about how he shot the bear, but he never did. It was just a story.”

Authorities said Stimac killed the bear on Sept. 1 and returned to the reservation the next day with his girlfriend, posing for photos with the bear’s carcass. He posted the photos on Facebook, along with a post claiming the bear was more than 700 pounds (318 kilograms).

Because of the bear’s size, Stimac could not move the bear from the reservation. He went back to the reservation on Sept. 3 and tried to remove the bear’s hide. When he couldn’t do that, he used a saw to remove the bear’s head and paws and harvested about 71 pounds (32 kilograms) of meat, according to court documents.

He left the rest of the carcass and at least one paw behind, the charges said.

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