When Grizzly Bears Attack ...

With determination that would make Inspector Javert proud, federal prosecutors have the case set to go to trial on October 4th. The stakes could not be more significant. At issue is whether the fundamental right to self-defense allows people to protect their families from dangerous animals, or if such a high value is placed on an endangered species that human lives must only be in the greatest peril imaginable to justify a shooting.

Even if the federal government prevails, the prosecution of Jeremy Hill will most likely have results counterproductive to the stated goals of the Endangered Species Act. Families living in Grizzly Country, facing the same risks as Hill, will still act to protect their families. Given what has happened to Hill, one thing they won’t do is call the authorities. Had Hill not done this, he would not be facing the charge.

This would only become one more situation where the phrase “Shoot, shovel, and shut up” would be applied. When many farmers and ranchers find on their property a predator listed as an endangered or threatened species, to preserve their livelihoods and protect their families, they literally shoot the animal, bury the carcass, and say nothing.

The Jeremy Hill case should serve as a clarion call to reform the nearly four-decades-old Endangered Species Act. What Congress and the Interior Department have failed to recognize is that for the act to work effectively they need the buy-in of those who live in the same area as these species. That will not happen if the Endangered Species Act fails to provide reasonable protections for humans’ property and safety.

Whatever the verdict, the tone deaf prosecution has reinforced the feeling of many Americans living in the rural West: the federal government is as big of a menace to their livelihoods and safety as any beast in the forest.

Dennis Donohue /Shutterstock