Idaho man cleared of criminal charge in grizzly shooting

SALMON, Idaho Thu Sep 8, 2011 6:16pm EDT

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SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The U.S. government has dropped a criminal charge against a northern Idaho man accused of killing a protected grizzly bear after the man said he shot the bear to protect his children.

Federal prosecutors on August 8 charged Jeremy Hill, 33, of Bonner's Ferry, with a misdemeanor accusing him of violating the Endangered Species Act by fatally shooting a bear on May 8 on his property, which straddles a corridor connecting two declining grizzly populations on Idaho's border with Canada.

Hill last month pleaded not guilty to the offense, which carries a prison sentence of up to one year.

But as word spread that Hill claimed he shot the bear to protect his children, Idaho's Republican leaders petitioned the federal government to call off its prosecution and said the case illustrated a need to overhaul one of the nation's landmark conservation laws.

On Wednesday, Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson announced a deal had been struck with Hill, who agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for violating a rule against the killing nuisance bears by anyone but government agents. In return, the criminal charge was dismissed.

Although hunting of grizzlies is generally prohibited under the Endangered Species Act, the law allows the animals to be killed if they are a threat to human life.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that wildlife investigators were unable to pinpoint where the Hill children were when three grizzlies appeared about 40 yards from the family home. When the bears neared a pig pen, Hill fired the first of three rounds at the closest of the bruins, according to statements by the government and by Hill.

"By the time Mr. Hill fired the final shot, he was aware that all of his children and his wife were inside of their house," according to the prosecutors' statement.

Hill said he fired the third and fatal shot because he thought "it would be very dangerous to leave the bear wounded, possibly posing a threat to others."

Olson said prosecutors agreed to drop the criminal case in part because of Hill's "prompt notification of his actions to Idaho Fish and Game officials."

In a statement, Hill said he paid the fine "to avoid putting my family through the emotional strain and the cost of a trial."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

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