A Boundary County man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to unlawfully killing a female grizzly bear in his yard.
So many friends and family members showed up to support Jeremy M. Hill at his arraignment that the hearing was forced to move into a larger room at the U.S. Courthouse in Coeur d’Alene. Hill, 33, faces one charge of killing a grizzly – a federally protected species.
Supporters said that Hill, a father of six, acted responsibly in shooting the female grizzly on May 8, which appeared with two cubs in the yard of his home near Porthill, Idaho, while his children were playing outside.
“It seems unjust to me that someone would be charged when they were protecting their family,” state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said after the hearing. “I’m at a loss to understand why the U.S. government is pursuing this in the manner they are.”
After shooting the grizzly with a bolt-action rifle, Hill contacted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“Jeremy did the right thing, he called Fish and Game,” Keough said. “I think that prosecuting this case really sets back the grizzly bear recovery effort. … People are saying, ‘Boy, if that happened to me, there’s no way that I’d report it.’ That’s a human reaction.”
Hill’s wife and six children – the oldest is 14 and the youngest is an infant – attended the arraignment. The family declined to comment.
A jury trial has been scheduled for Oct. 4. If convicted of illegally killing a federally protected species, Hill faces penalties of up to a year in prison and fines of up to $50,000.
The Hills’ Porthill home lies between two federal grizzly bear recovery zones – the Selkirk zone to the west and Cabinet-Yaak zone to the east. Roughly 100 grizzlies are believed to inhabit the zones, which include parts of Idaho, British Columbia and Montana.
Grizzlies are a controversial topic in Boundary County, where protecting their habitat has led to Forest Service road closures and some timber harvest restrictions. In recent years, a collaborative effort called the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative has worked to reduce conflicts between people and bears.
Ronald Smith, chairman of the Boundary County Commission, said he’s dismayed that Hill faces prosecution. County commissioners support grizzly bear recovery efforts, saying a recovered population will ease land-use restrictions, but charging Hill doesn’t make sense, Smith said.
“Jeremy Hill … has been falsely accused of a crime that did not happen,” Smith said in a statement. “… We feel that at all costs, this man has the obligation and responsibility to protect his children. This is not some flagrant or malicious act.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook declined to comment on the case.
Community members raised $19,558 for the Hill family last week at a 4-H animal sale in Bonners Ferry. Hill’s 14-year-old daughter, Jasmine, was selling a pig she raised named Regina. Bidders bought and sold Regina 15 times, with the final bidder giving the pig back to Jasmine Hill, saving it from a trip to the butcher.
“It was a statement – we’re with you, Jeremy,” said Rob Pluid, of Bonners Ferry, who helped organize the continuous bidding.
Accounts for the family have been set up at Mountain West Bank, Wells Fargo and Panhandle State Bank, said Donna Capurso, chairwoman of the Boundary County Republican Central Committee.
Meanwhile, Boundary County commissioners sent letters to Idaho’s congressional delegation and state legislators, asking for support for Hill. They also issued a news release, saying that Idaho Fish and Game officials had recommended against filing charges in the case, and that local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials had concurred.
Chip Corsi, Idaho Fish and Game’s regional manager, declined to comment on his agency’s stance on charges, but said: “He had three grizzly bears in close proximity to his kids, family and livestock. He had reason to believe there was a threat.”
Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, said she couldn’t comment on the case specifically. In general, however, “we do an investigation and turn over our information and evidence to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney makes the decision on whether to prosecute or not.”