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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho lawmakers propose ESA changes on grizzlies

Both of Idaho’s U.S. senators and North Idaho’s congressman introduced legislation Wednesday to amend the Endangered Species Act to clarify that it’s OK to shoot a grizzly bear in self-defense or in defense of another person, in response to the Jeremy Hill incident. However, the law already says that - in the very next section after the one the new bill would amend. A spokesman for Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said the bill would “bolster” that provision, but a national species conservation group called it “simply political grandstanding.” Jeremy Hill of Porthill, Idaho shot a grizzly last May after it and two others wandered onto his property and were seen near his children’s 4-H pig pen; he feared his six children were outside playing at the time. He was charged with a federal crime, but it later was dropped in favor of a non-criminal infraction, and Hill agreed to pay a $1,000 fine. Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Raul Labrador, all Republicans, said in a joint statement Wednesday that their new legislation “would be a drastic improvement over the current ESA regulations.” Risch said, “This is a common-sense change that needs to be passed.” The Hill case stirred up plenty of concern in Idaho, attracting statements of support for Hill not only from the congressional delegation but from local county commissioners and the local prosecutor; Gov. Butch Otter sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the case. Local residents in Boundary County backed their neighbor by raising more than $19,000 at a 4-H auction to support him. Hill could have faced up to a year in prison and $50,000 in fines under the original federal charge. In dropping the criminal charge against Hill, the Idaho U.S. Attorney’s office noted that Hill promptly notified Idaho Fish and Game officials of the incident. It also noted that he fired three shots at the two-year-old grizzly, and by the time he fired the third, he knew his family was safe inside. Derek Goldman, Northern Rockies representative in Missoula for the Endangered Species Coalition, a national network of hundreds of groups that support species conservation, blasted the Idaho lawmakers’ new bill in a statement Wednesday. “This is a case of politicians using a single, rare and unfortunate incident to pander to extremists who want to undermine common-sense protections for wildlife,” he said. “This is simply political grandstanding by politicians who want to weaken laws that protect our wildlife and wildlife habitat for future generations of Americans.” The bill the Idaho lawmakers proposed would add a clause onto the “exceptions” section of the Endangered Species Act, 16 USC 1539, stating, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law … the provisions of this Act shall not apply with respect to the taking of any grizzly bear by an individual who demonstrates to the Secretary by a preponderance of the evidence that the individual carried out the taking as a result of: 1 - self defense; 2 - defense of another individual; or 3 - a reasonable belief of imminent danger posed by the grizzly bear to any individual.” The next section of the law, the penalties section, 16 USC 1540, already states, both for civil penalties and criminal penalties, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no … penalty shall be imposed if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed an act based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual from bodily harm, from any endangered or threatened species.” University of Idaho law professor Dale Gobel, an expert on the Endangered Species Act, said, “It’s in the statute.” Asked about the bill, he said with a chuckle, “It seems redundant, but other than that, why not?” Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo in Boise, said, “This just basically adds some more language to further bolster the self-defense language that’s in the ESA. I wouldn’t call it a major change in the law.” But he said the lawmakers believe the Jeremy Hill case showed “that maybe we need to clarify the language in the law, and that’s what we’re doing.” He added, “The point is that what the law says in a general sense is good but it was not enough to protect Hill from being charged.  What our bill does is seek to iron out the differences between how the law reads and how it was implemented in the Hill case.  We still have a situation where you have the ESA, regulations on the ESA at the agency level and agents in the field making a determination and recommendation on the situation.  The idea is to improve the language to lessen the chances that, in our opinion, it will be misinterpreted.”