June 26, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Two illegal Union County big-game hunts carried a steep price tag this week for a Kennewick, Wash., man.

Michael R. Mead, 42, owner of M&M Archery in Kennewick, came to trial in Union County Circuit Court Monday, facing 15 counts relating to the taking of elk, deer and black bears during illegal hunting trips into Oregon. Charges relating to Mead's hunting activities in Washington state are pending, Union County District Attorney Russ West said.

Mead and his lawyers decided to agree to a plea agreement after the trial started, West said.

Mead agreed to enter guilty pleas to seven counts. Two of the counts accused him of taking a spike bull elk and a five-point branched bull elk from the Phillips Creek unit. Other counts included the waste of the spike bull elk, taking an elk using a prohibited method since the bull was shot during an archery season, and exceeding the elk bag limit.

Another count that Mead pleaded to involved the taking of yet another branched bull elk near Spout Springs in 1998. During that same period, Mead also was videotaped by a friend hunting black bear using bait, a practice that had been outlawed in Oregon some time before, West said.

The investigation into Mead's hunting activities was led by both Oregon and Washington state police troopers and by fish and wildlife officers from both states and took five years to conclude. West credited Oregon State Patrol Sr. Troopers Daren Chandler locally and Tim Gallaher from Pendleton, along with Todd Vandivirt of the Washington game department with helping build the case against Mead.

Memories of the trips will be about all Mead will have to recall the hunts. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail, with 150 days jail time suspended.

He was also ordered to pay $18,303 in fines, fees and restitution.

The fines included $5,000 each for two of the elk, $3,000 for a third and $400 for a black bear.

West explained that while the fines are much higher than normal, Judge Phillip Mendiguren agreed after an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist explained the value of the bull elk to the genetic pool of elk in the hunting units.

Mead also had his hunting privileges in Washington and Oregon suspended for five years, although his Oregon suspension will be extended for life. He will also be on court probation in Union County for five years.

He was also ordered by the court to forfeit the three bull elk mounted heads, five black bear hide rugs and a mounted deer head. While many more mounted trophies of Mead's hunts were seized during the investigation, West said that some were found to have been killed in Washington and others were from hunts too long ago to have had charges filed.

West noted that Mead does not have a criminal history.

Mead was originally cited Jan 12 with the Class A misdemeanor game violations.

The original 15 charges could have carried a sentence of up to a year in jail each, West noted.