Senators weigh in on grizzly debate

By DAVID COLE/Staff writer
CDA Press

Posted: Saturday, August 27, 2011

COEUR d'ALENE - Idaho's U.S. senators on Friday said common sense should dictate where the criminal case goes now against a North Idaho man charged with killing a grizzly bear in May.

Both Republicans also said the controversial case shows the Endangered Species Act needs reform.

Jeremy M. Hill, 33, of Porthill, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene this week. His defense attorney said he will be arguing the grizzly, which was with its mother and another cub, was shot in defense of Hill's family. Hill has six kids.

In a statement sent to media outlets, Jim Risch said, "Protection of your family and property has been sacrosanct since this country was formed."

All that U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson's office has said about the case is that Hill killed the grizzly on May 8 at his home. Hill's father, Mike Hill, said the bears, or at least one, had gone after some pigs that were in a pen on Jeremy Hill's 20-acre property.

Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate environment and public works committee which handles oversight of the ESA, said Hill deserves swift and just treatment, and urges the federal government to use common sense when considering the case.

Following the May incident, Olson's office took until Aug. 8 to file charging documents.

Crapo, in a statement, said, "I have deep concerns about this incident and the decision of the government to prosecute Mr. Hill, who did what any parent would do in this situation."

Crapo said he understands that the ESA was established to protect threatened and endangered species, but Congress never intended to do so at the expense of basic public safety.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, also a Republican, issued a statement to the media on Friday in reaction to the case.

"Only Jeremy knows the threat this bear posed to his family and property," Labrador said. "No one from (Washington, D.C.) or Boise was present to know the circumstances surrounding his actions, but the Endangered Species Act shouldn't force us to second-guess these types of life or death decisions."

Going on news accounts so far about the spring incident, Labrador said the judgment call Jeremy made to protect his family and property appears to be justified.

Like Crapo and Risch, Labrador said this situation illustrates a need to re-examine the ESA.

Jim Hayden, regional wildlife manager for Idaho Fish and Game, said people have the legal authority to protect themselves against grizzly bears.

"The key is threat to human life," Hayden said.

He said there is no legal authority to shoot and kill an animal protected by the ESA to protect property.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Joan Jewett, in Portland, speaking generally about grizzly bear encounters, recommended people go into their house and call local wildlife officials if one of the animals comes onto private property.

"It is not legal to shoot a bear just because it comes onto your property," she said.

Another option is firing a warning shot into the ground, about 10 to 15 feet from the animal, which should kick up dirt and debris to scare it off. Jewett said that approach is more effective than warning shots in the air, and less dangerous.

She also recommended keeping garbage and pet food out of reach of bears, and protecting smaller animals, like pigs, with electric fencing.

Be Bear Aware

n For information on coexisting with grizzly bears: Be Bear Aware at or the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee at