published Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Humans, bears and common sense

Many Americans love animals, whether they be household pets or wildlife. But common sense tells us that some wildlife can be dangerous, and we have to take measures when human life is threatened by a wild animal.

So it was disturbing to learn recently that an Idaho man faced up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine for killing a grizzly bear that had come onto his property and dangerously close to his home.

The bear had come within 40 yards of Jeremy Hill's house at the base of Idaho's Selkirk Mountains. Hill has six children, so he was naturally worried about their welfare. Therefore, he killed the bear.

But then the trouble started. Grizzlies are considered by the federal government to be a threatened species, so Hill faced a criminal charge in the slaying of the bear. Apparently, the Endangered Species Act requires that a person be in direct danger before killing a grizzly.

But anyone who knows much about grizzlies knows how fast they are. The grizzly that Hill killed could have covered the 40 yards to the man's home in a matter of seconds. How close must a grizzly approach a human being before the federal government considers that person justified in killing the bear? Twenty yards? Ten? A person who waits until the bear is that close may never get the chance to fire.

Our point isn't that there may not be legitimate reasons to protect certain species. But when a person is threatened by a wild animal, it is absurd to put up legal barriers to that person's right to protect himself.

Fortunately, after a good deal of public outrage, the federal government reconsidered the case up in Idaho and decided to fine Hill "only" $1,000.

But something is wrong with our priorities as a society when safeguarding human life is not necessarily considered as important as protecting animal species.

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