Here is a shot of a black bear lumbering through the woods. Often it is difficult to get a good look at a black bear, they are extremely elusive characters, with a great sense of smell and a unique sense of natural wariness. Although black bear are often considered the 'clown of the woods', due to their seemingly lumbering and bumbling ways, they have the ability to accelerate to over 35 mph in an instant, and they can disappear by blending into the forest even faster.
Over the years, I’ve listened to numerous deer hunters explain their lack of success, with excuses such as, “my sights were off” or “the brush was too thick” or “the sun was in my eyes.”
Throughout my non-illustrious, hunting career, I’ve uttered many of the same excuses. However, whenever I’ve failed to fill my tag, which is more often than not, I’ve jokingly attributed it to my fondness for “track soup.”
For those unfamiliar with this popular Northwood’s delicacy, “track soup” is a wild mixture that combines equal portions of forest frustration, bad backwoods luck, and poor marksmanship, mixed in with generous helpings of fresh deer tracks, a few shortened shirt-tails, and just a smidge of whiskey, to add character.
An appropriate supply of deer tracks can often be found on the nearest runway, where whitetail flags are usually observed disappearing into the distance. Running tracks are fine, however I prefer “walking tracks,” as they are usually more condensed.
I’ve also discovered the tastiest soup is made from fresh deer tracks, left in deep snow. Snowbound tracks provide a far better stock, than tracks found in mud or leaves, which often impart woody flavor and a rather gritty consistency to my soup.
Although I joke about fictitious “track soup,” in reality, bear paw soup is no laughing matter. Bear paw soup, which is a traditional Sichuan delicacy, is actually available in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. It may even be available, upon request, in some of North America’s most upscale, Chinese restaurants, where a single portion can cost upward of $1,000, or more.
As the name implies, the soup’s main ingredient is a freshly harvested bear paw, complete with claws, fur, pads and all. Reportedly, this strange entrée features just the front paws, which are not as tough as the hind paws. Ideally, a left front paw is the prime choice of true connoisseurs. It is considered the most tender, since bears lick it the most.
Paws are not the only commodities harvested from black bear. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine also use bear bile, and bear gall bladders to treat a variety of maladies ranging from fevers and erectile dysfunction to improving vision or as an aphrodisiac.
Although synthetic alternatives are currently available, there remains great demand for all organic, wild bear bile. As a result of the over harvest of wild populations of native bear in the region, bear farms have sprouted up throughout Southeast Asia, where captive bruins are regularly ‘milked’ for their bile, in a painful and gruesome process.
Prior to the development of synthetic alternatives, and the advent of bear bile harvesting technologies, most of the bear parts sold overseas originated in the wild. And they still do, with prime gall bladders from wild specimens fetching upwards of $3,000 on the black market.
According to Alan Green, an investigative journalist and author of Animal Underworld, the illegal trade in exotic species and animal parts is estimated to generate over $25 billion annually. It is big business, and it remains second only to the global drug trade in terms of illegal dollars. Due to the burgeoning new wealth of the Far East, there are growing concerns over the increasing exploitation of wild bear populations, worldwide, especially in Russia, and North America.
New York, with an estimated population of more than 6,000 black bears, has long been a major supplier of bear parts, and taxidermists across the state continue to legally purchase bear gall bladders, paws and claws for resale. It is one of only eight states in the entire nation that continue to permit the trade to flourish.
However, due to the lack of effective oversight and regulations, unscrupulous hunters may have been able to sell bear organs that came from animals harvested in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or elsewhere, to dealers in New York.
Until now, it has been difficult for taxidermists to determine where a gall bladder actually came from. The organs, which are roughly the size of a pear, can easily be concealed and transported across state lines. It is impossible to determine if a detached organ came from a bear in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or elsewhere.
However, on Jan. 1, 2012, New York enacted new legislation to regulate the trade, in an effort to prevent the sale of non-native bear parts. Although DEC officials believe the vast majority of taxidermists have been acting in good faith, there was growing concern that increased demand will lead to increased prices, and in depressed economies, black markets tend to thrive.
Bud Piserchia, owner of North Country Taxidermy in Keene, is one of the best-known, local buyers of bear gall bladder and claws. Regarding the new law, Piserchia said, “There really hasn’t been a lot of changes. It’s always been DEC’s contention that hunters can legally utilize all parts of the bear. We buy galls and we also buy the claws, and the pelts.”
“Taxidermists have always been required to see it (the seller’s Big Game tag), but now all that paperwork stays with the gall bladder, and the only difference is that we now have to get additional information for the DEC on the buyers. And we still have to file an annual report to DEC, with the name, address, tag number, WMU, date of kill, and all that. We’ve always kept accurate records.”
Piserchia continued, “It used to be that all the Koreans would come to New York to buy bear, but after the Soviet Union broke up, the Koreans got most of their bears from Russia, where the bears are bigger.”
“Dealers used to buy 80 to 100 galls from me every year, but now they only buy about 10. We used to get $35 an ounce for a gall, which averages about 3-8 ounces, but now they only pay about $10 an ounce, and we sell less than a dozen pieces.”
According to Ed Reed, a Wildlife Biologist with DEC Region 5, there was a lot of misinformation disseminated in the campaign, which was sponsored by Born Free USA. Reed claimed, “The new law was pushed by anti-hunting groups, and it’s ludicrous to believe that hunters are shooting bear just for the gall. New York wants hunters to be able to utilize all of the meat. It will not effect bear hunting; it is only intended to regulate the sale of bear parts.”
Most hunters I spoke with seemed to agree with Reed’s assessment, including one old, bear hunter who explained, “Huntin’ bear’s too much g-damn work, just to kill ‘em just for a gall, claws and all. Why Hell, ya’d git more money fer a robe, to make inta a rug, than ya’d git fer just a g-damn bladder ‘n paws. If I kill one, I’ll be draggin’ the whole g-damn thing out; ya kin bet yer a.. on that!”
It appears there is little reason for ethical hunters to be concerned about this preemptive, preventative measure. A section of the new law defines the bill’s intent. It reads, “This legislation is narrowly crafted to solely restrict commerce in bear gallbladders and bile. It does not impact legal hunting rights, trade in bear parts other than gallbladder and bile, or the ability of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to possess, transport, deliver, or receive gallbladders or bile for law enforcement purposes.”
Jason Kemper, president of the NYS Conservation Fund Advisory Board agrees. He explained, “It hasn’t been a big problem for DEC yet, but the potential (for out of state sellers to bring illegal bear parts to NY) was there. The DEC wanted to make sure that New York did not become a hub for illegal trade.”
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.