Ambiguities in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have prompted Idaho's Congressional Delegation to introduce legislation clarifying the rights of individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones from grizzly bear attacks. Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressman Raúl Labrador say the legislation would amend the ESA to permit actions carried out against grizzly bears in self-defense situations.
The Delegation members note that these proposed changes to the law would be a drastic improvement over the current ESA regulations protecting the grizzly bear, which make it possible, but extremely difficult to legally take a grizzly bear in an act of self-defense or defense of another human. The new legislation states: "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."
On August 8, 2011, the U.S. Attorney for Idaho charged an Idaho man, Jeremy Hill, with a violation of the ESA for killing a grizzly bear on his property near Porthill, Idaho, in defense of himself and his family. The government's decision to charge and prosecute Mr. Hill sparked an outcry from countless Idahoans, local elected officials in north Idaho and the Idaho Congressional Delegation. On September 8, the U.S. Attorney dropped all charges against Mr. Hill, after he agreed to pay a fine.
In introducing their legislation, Crapo, Risch and Labrador note that the ESA was rightly established to protect threatened and endangered species, but that Congress never intended to do so at the expense of basic public safety and the ability to protect oneself or others in the face of danger.
"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," Crapo said. "Like Mr. Hill, all Americans need to know that they can protect themselves and their families when confronted with a seemingly imminent grizzly attack. Passage of this legislation will send that message, loud and clear."
"Everyone who followed Mr. Hill's case understood that he was not hunting a grizzly bear. He was protecting his family, which he truly believed was in harm's way," said Risch. "This legislation will allow an individual to act in self-defense without having to mount a costly defense for their actions, if done appropriately. This is a common-sense change that needs to be passed."
"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," Labrador said. "This legislation will amend the ESA to ensure that future, unavoidable confrontations between man and beast do not end with the federal government placing the protection of the animal before the safety of people."
The grizzly bear legislation will be referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which Crapo is a member; and the House Natural Resources Committee, of which Labrador is a member.