What’s more dangerous: a charging grizzly bear or the U.S. Secretary of the Interior? For an Idaho man, Ken Salazar might be a bigger threat. Jeremy M. Hill of Boundary County, Idaho, has been arraigned on federal charges for unlawfully killing a grizzly bear in his yard. Hill’s home is in northern Idaho near the Canadian border and is between two federal grizzly bear recovery zones – the Selkirk zone to the west and Cabinet-Yaak zone to the east. Hill’s problems began last May . . .
when a family of three Ursus arctos took a walk and ended up on his property, with an interest in his children’s 4H pigs. Several of Hill’s children were playing outside, an estimated 40 yards from where the bears showed up. Hill’s wife spotted the bears and screamed for the children to get in the house.
The commotion caught Hill’s attention and he spotted one of the bears climbing halfway up the side of the pig pen. Grabbing his rifle and three cartridges (only three?), he ran outside and fired a single shot at the closest bear, knocking him to the ground. The sound of the rifle shot sent the other two bears scattering into the forest behind the house.
The wounded bear got up and ran off with a slight limp. Hill’s dog headed for the wounded bear. Hill says the bear turned and charged straight towards him. Hill took aim and shot the bear a second time, knocking the bear down again.
Hill went inside to call the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. But before he made the call, he looked outside and saw the bear was trying to crawl back to the woods. Hill took up the rifle again and walked back to the bear, now not moving—unsure if it was dead or alive—and fired a final shot, putting the bear out of his misery.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game investigated. They decided that the killing was justified. As an endangered species was involved in the incident, the report was passed on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who began their investigation about a month later. The USFWS didn’t agree with the state’s findings. They filed federal criminal charges against Hill on Aug. 8. He faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $50,000.
Hill pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 4, 2011. Idaho Governor “Butch” Otter has appealed to Secretary Salazar, and other Idaho politicians have expressed their support for Mr. Hill.
Did Hill have other options than firing the first shot? Who knows? We weren’t there. But if the story is even close to accurate for the distance the bears were to his children, there wasn’t much time to make a decision. Bears can run 30 to 35 MPH for short periods. That’s roughly 45 feet per second. At 40 yards away, it would take the bear 2.7 seconds to cover the distance to his kids.
Besides, what happened to innocent until proven guilty and innocent once proven innocent? Maybe we should put common sense and justice on the endangered species list.
09/07/2011 UPDATE: Federal prosecutors dropped the charges against Hill. As part of a deal, Hill agreed his actions violated a regulation of the Endangered Species Act and paid a $1,000 fine.