Criminal charges levied earlier this week on Jeremy Hill, who shot and killed a grizzly bear cub in his yard last May near Porthill, Idaho, just below the border with Canada, have sparked statements in his defense by Idaho’s local, state, and federal politicians.
Hill pleaded not guilty in federal court on Tuesday to the misdemeanor charge of killing an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act. A sow and two cubs wandered into his yard, and he said he was defending his six children.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter released a letter on Thursday that he wrote in support of Hill’s action to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Noting that Hill thought his children were playing in the yard at the time, Otter requested that Salazar look into the matter and help in any way he can.
“One of the flaws of the ESA is the premium it places on protecting species at the expense of everything else,” Otter wrote.
“I’m at a loss to understand why the U.S. government is pursuing this in the manner they are,” Idaho state Sen. Shawn Keough (R-Sandpoint) told Spokane’s Spokesman-Review after Hill’s arraignment.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, who serves on the committee that oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which filed the charges, released a statement today. Calling for fair and swift treatment of Hill, he 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.”
Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who is a former prosecutor, told the Idaho Statesman, “What Mr. Hill did was not a criminal act in the court of common sense.”
Walt Kirby, a commissioner of northern Idaho’s Boundary County, told the Northwest News Network that the case was unnerving to people who live in bear country. “The government should just pick up their marbles and go home,” he said.
The Hills’ home sits between two federal grizzly bear recovery zones, the Selkirk to the west and Cabinet-Yaak to the east. About 100 grizzlies, a species listed as threatened, are believed to inhabit the zones.
After shooting the bear with a bolt-action rifle, Hill contacted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. His misdemeanor charge carries a potential sentence of a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. A jury trial has been scheduled for Oct. 4.
Friends of Hill, 33, and his family packed the U.S. Courthouse in Coeur d’Alene at his arraignment on Tuesday. A 4-H animal sale was then held in the nearby community of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, at which almost $20,000 was raised for his legal defense.
“Most of the facts are being kept secret at this time by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, prosecutors, the public defender and the Hill family,” outdoor writer Rich Landers indicated in a Spokeman-Review column today. “The law says a wolf can be shot if it’s actively threatening pets or livestock, but no such caveat exists for shooting a grizzly.”
The reason for this, he elaborated, was that a female grizzly does not reach sexual maturity until age six or seven, produces just one or two young every three years, and usually does not survive in the wild beyond her early 20s.