Bear Hunter Arrested

A 39-year-old Shelton man was booked into Mason County Jail this morning on a charge of investigation of manslaughter in the death of a brush picker on Wednesday morning.

Chief Deputy Dean Byrd said Gerald Wayne Aldrich was released and will have a first court appearance this coming Monday, Oct. 4.

Byrd says Aldrich and a friend were out bear hunting when they thought they spotted a bear. Aldrich fired a single shot, he says.

It’s been unclear why the hunters did not follow up their shot, but Byrd shed some light on that.

“They heard some screaming or chattering in the woods, ‘Don’t shoot,’ and became afraid of a confrontation and left,” Byrd says of the hunters.

The body of Carlos Pablo Carrillo, a 25-year-old area resident, was discovered at the location, off of California Road 9 miles northwest of Shelton.

After news reports surfaced Wednesday afternoon, the two men turned themselves in to police and cooperated with investigators.

“They assumed they missed,” Byrd says.

The Kitsap Sun reports, “Detectives believe that although Aldrich did not shoot the 25-year-old intentionally, he was reckless and negligent in firing the shot.”

The incident is another tragic reminder for hunters that there are other people in Washington’s woods and fields.

“Hunters should be aware they need to positively ID their target and know what’s behind the target,” Byrd says. “Once they fire that bullet, they own it.”

According to information from WDFW Deputy Chief of enforcement Mike Cenci, at least one other brush gatherer has been killed, two wounded in shooting mishaps in Washington since 2000.

A 1998  article from The Oregonian reposted elsewhere says the harvest of shrubbery, mushrooms and other nontimber items in the woods of Washington and Oregon was worth $200 million.

It also speaks to the dangers of the industry, including a clash between pickers in Grays Harbor County that lead to the death of Alfredo Menjivar the year before.

An extensive 2006 Seattle Times story by Craig Welch entitled “A War In the Woods” details how two brush pickers had their haul of 20,000 stems stolen from them at gunpoint.

It also details some of the efforts to police the industry:

Mason County sheriff’s Deputy Ted Drogmund barely missed crashing his pickup into trees as he piloted up narrow logging roads to picking grounds west of Shelton on a recent spring morning.

Spying a van in a clearing, Drogmund left his truck and bounded into the woods, a palm on his holstered gun.

“Permit? You have a permit?” he shouted.

Ignacio Velazquez stumbled from the brush, but he had the proper paperwork.

Scenes like this are common for Drogmund and a handful of others in Western Washington who police illegal picking full time.

“It’s still really like the Wild West out here,” Drogmund said.

Some years Drogmund makes 100 arrests, for fistfights, broken windows and slashed tires. A brush picker in Mason County last month was charged with bashing his boss with a shovel.

Drogmund recently chased a van of illegal pickers who were “slow-rolling,” looking for a place to bail out and scatter into the woods. Ten days earlier, an illegal picker approached Drogmund carrying a machete.

In Grays Harbor County, a picker was shot and killed in 1997 by another worker who wanted his salal patch. Another picker was shot and wounded three years ago.

Near Hood Canal, five people were caught last year stealing $28,000 in salal from private land. In Eugene, Ore., a man was sent to prison for pilfering $250,000 in beargrass. In early May, eight illegal salal pickers were arrested in the Olympic National Forest, accused of chasing off legal competitors. A few weeks ago, Forest Service patrol officers came across nearly 150 80-pound bales of moss that had been swiped from the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

This, of course, does not abdicate hunters’ responsibilities. But as with my article on marijuana grows in Northwest forests, it shows that these are no longer your grandfather’s woods.

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