COEUR d’ALENE — Three members of Idaho’s congressional delegation together introduced legislation seeking to clarify existing law that describes the right of individuals to shoot grizzly bears in self-defense.
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressman Raúl Labrador said Wednesday their legislation would amend the Endangered Species Act.
The three Republicans said the proposed changes to the law would be a “drastic improvement over the current ESA regulations” protecting grizzly bears.
They said the current ESA regulations make it “extremely difficult to legally take a grizzly bear in an act of self-defense or defense of another human.”
Their new legislation, they said in a joint press release, states that the provisions of the ESA wouldn’t apply to killing a grizzly bear when an individual had demonstrated “by a preponderance of the evidence” that their actions were self-defense or carried out in defense of another individual.
Also, ESA provisions wouldn’t apply if an individual had “a reasonable belief of imminent danger posed by the grizzly bear to any individual,” their legislation states.
The ESA already includes a self-defense provision like the one Crapo, Risch and Labrador introduced, said Marty Bergoffen, endangered species organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
“Adding this superfluous language amounts to political theater rather than thoughtful legislating,” Bergoffen said. “If they want to be sure that the act allows for self-defense, we’d be happy to send them a copy of the Endangered Species Act so they can see for themselves.”
On Aug. 8, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, Wendy Olson, charged a Porthill man, Jeremy Hill, 33, with a violation of the ESA for killing a grizzly bear on his 20-acre property. Hill said he killed the 2-year-old bear to protect his children, who had been in the yard playing. The charges were later dismissed, and Hill agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.
Crapo said, “We are introducing focused, common-sense ESA reforms limited to dangerous grizzly bear encounters to ensure that this unfortunate situation depriving an individual of his or her rights never happens again.”
Risch said, “This legislation will allow an individual to act in self-defense without having to mount a costly (legal) defense for their actions, if done appropriately.”
Labrador added, “Our success with increasing the grizzly population has now collided with the common-sense right of self-defense when encountering these and other predators in the course of normal life.”
The grizzly bear legislation will be referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a committee Crapo serves on; and the House Natural Resources Committee, of which Labrador is a member.
Hill shot the grizzly, which was on his property with two other bears, in May.
The grizzly bear is a threatened species in the lower 48 states, and protected by federal law. Porthill, home to fewer than 100 people at the U.S.-Canadian border, sits four miles east of the closest grizzly bear recovery zone, in the Selkirk Mountains.
Bergoffen said Crapo, Risch and Labrador should “quit grandstanding — it’s pretty clear that Congress has more pressing issues to pursue rather than spinning their wheels on a bill that will have no legal effect.”
Bergoffen said the existing ESA self-defense exemption reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this act, it shall be a defense to prosecution under this subsection if the defendant committed the offense 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.”
The language proposed by Crapo, Risch and Labrador reads:
“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 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.”