This is a first-

A young man from Newdale, Idaho (Kenneth Sommer) was hunting black bear in May. His wife was along on this trip to the Rock Creek area near the Cave Falls road. He shot a big male grizzly (illegal) and claimed it was about to attack his wife, a defense we have heard often. The bear was one that had never gotten into any human trouble.

Idaho Fish and Game investigated at the scene and found his story was not possible. “All three investigators concluded that the bear had likely been ‘standing still’ when Sommer shot and killed it with a single bullet to the center of its forehead.” Sommer was charged. He had a jury trial in an Idaho state court in Fremont County and was convicted. According to Idaho Fish and Game, “this is the first case in Idaho where there was a successful prosecution in state court of a grizzly bear taken unlawfully.”

This is important as we move toward grizzly bear delisting because it is some evidence that Idaho might be able to successfully manage wild grizzlies.

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Here is the entire news release.

Idaho successfully handles case of illegally killed grizzly bear

ST ANTHONY. For the first time since grizzly bears were listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, the State of Idaho has successfully prosecuted a grizzly bear case, demonstrating that it is ready and able to manage grizzly bears as big game animals.
On May 7, 2014,  Kenneth Tyler Sommer (23, of Newdale, ID) was with his wife hunting for black bears in Unit 62A near the Rock Creek Girl Scouts Camp.  According to a statement Sommer made to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Agent initially investigating the matter, a bear charged he and his wife and he shot it. Only after killing the bear did Sommer identify it as a grizzly.  He contacted  conservation officers with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game(IDFG) to report the incident.  After consultation with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service  (USFWS) it was decided that the State of Idaho would handle the case.
IDFG officers, aided by a USFWS agent, conducted a thorough investigation of the kill-site but found no physical evidence on the ground that the bear had ever charged Sommer or his wife.  All three investigators concluded that the bear had likely been “standing still” when Sommer shot and killed it with a single bullet to the center of its forehead.
Sommer was cited for unlawful taking of a grizzly bear, plead not guilty, and requested a jury trial.  Last week, on December 8, 2014, Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney, Karl H. Lewies, tried the case to a jury.  He argued that the bear had not been charging when Sommer shot it, but that Sommer who “wanted to kill a black bear that day, shot first and identified second.” After hearing all the evidence, including Sommer’s own version of events, the jury found Sommer guilty of unlawfully taking a grizzly bear.
The grizzly bear that was killed was a 12-year old adult male weighing approximately 400 lbs. The investigation determined that the bear had initially been shot in the head from 36 yards away with a 7mm rifle and that its tracks never veered toward the Sommers.  The bear had previously been collared for study purposes but had never gotten into any trouble with humans.  According to IDFG Regional Conservation Officer Doug Petersen, one of the investigators on the case, “As a sportsman we have a legal and more importantly an ethical obligation to make sure and identify our target before we shoot.  The responsibility is ours when we pull the trigger on a firearm to know where that bullet is going and where it will stop.”
Magistrate Judge Gilman Gardner sentenced Sommers to the maximum fine of $1,000 dollars, maximum $400 civil penalties, 30 days in jail, 1 year hunting license revocation and 2 years unsupervised probation.   The judge suspended the jail time and $500 dollars, on condition that Sommer successfully completes his probation.
According to Petersen, “This is the first case in Idaho where there was a successful prosecution in state court of a grizzly bear taken unlawfully.  From the officers’ detailed investigation, through partnership with Fremont County’s prosecutor, this sets the record straight that Idaho is prepared to manage grizzly bears as a big game species in Idaho.”
The investigation phases of two unrelated cases regarding the killing of grizzly bears in the Island Park Area in 2013 are complete and still awaiting federal prosecution.
To learn more about bears in Idaho, visit http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/education/bearIdentification/
 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

31 Responses to Idaho Griz killer is convicted by Idaho jury

  1. avatar skyrim says:

    There is hardly a deterrent with a maximum penalty structure as that. The guy may feel the sting of the loss of hunting privileges, but the rest is just a joke even if you don’t consider the fact that much of it is always suspended. Hats off for prosecuting but that’s where the “atta boys” stop for me.

  2. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    The investigation determined that the bear had initially been shot in the head from 36 yards away with a 7mm rifle and that its tracks never veered toward the Sommers.

    Thank goodness for modern forensic ballistics (charged his wife, yeah right). I’m glad something was done here, but also shows just how wolves are treated differently, probably due to attitudes. If grizzlies are delisted, this will happen a lot more. I’d rather it was avoided in the first place.

  3. avatar Yvette says:

    Well, it’s a start, but the sentences should be stricter. No jail time, only one year revocation of his hunting license, and unsupervised probation, whatever that means.

    Still, it is better than nothing.

  4. avatar Richie G says:

    I agree with Yvette not a good sentence should have been more of a fine and 30 days in jail is not enough even when it was suspended.

  5. avatar jerry collins says:

    That wasn’t a successful prosecution. Most people pay an outfitter 5,000 or more just to kill a grizzly. He needed at least a year in Jail. Now lets see if they start prosecuting people like that inbred sheriff for killing wolves.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      jerry collins and all,

      Yes he needed a harsher sentence, but the important positive fact, I think, is that he was convicted by a Fremont County, Idaho jury. The reduction in the sentence came from the judge.

  6. avatar Logan says:

    It is good to see this conviction happen when it was clearly not a case of self defense.

    The fines are definetly too low, you can get worse for killing a deer out of season.

  7. avatar rork says:

    Illegally shooting a trophy buck whitetail in MI would cost about ten times that: 12 pointers get you a bill for $11000. We’ve upped that recently, and lots of states should do likewise. 1 year without hunting is a complete joke. That’d be 5 years just for whitetail near me. This is not a serious deterrent.

    • avatar Tim says:

      Most States don’t have punishments for wildlife crimes that are a deterrent. Here in even left leaning Washington we let one of the worst known poachers off with house arrest.

      http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/04/04/3133820/wild-game-poacher-sentenced-to.html

      • avatar WM says:

        This is why this bozo wasn’t punished more appropriately to his crimes (plus he agreed to cooperate in possible prosecution of others):

        ++Schwartz said his client, a native Cambodian who immigrated to the United States and is now a naturalized citizen, did not know what he was doing was wrong. It is not uncommon in Cambodian culture for families to feed themselves or others with wild game.++

        See, if it were up to me, he would lose this bullshit defense/consideration for a more lenient sentence once he became a naturalized US citizen. On the other hand, so to speak, if he does this again I’d be all for chopping off a hand (or at least the threat of it).

        We have a bunch of Russians/Ukranians here in WA who have been poaching large numbers of fish for commercial sale in their immigrant community. Some past violators have been given the same allowance in sentencing.

        Here is the most recent incident, and do look at the photo. There has been quite a bit of this going on over the last couple years:

        http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/dec/15/poachers-central-washington-lake-net-377-fish/

        • avatar Ida Lupines says:

          What’s even scarier is if they ‘don’t know it is wrong'(of course they know it is wrong!) it is going on in their home countries too. At least in the US there is some semblance of wildlife protection – a lot of countries probably don’t even have that.

        • avatar Louise Kane says:

          how about locals like Toby Bridges a hand off for him too? is that enough?

          just saying sounds a little like you are more pissed about this nationality than the offense.

          • avatar Ida Lupines says:

            I’m not sure who Louise is addressing, but could I have to jump in? I don’t know that Toby Bridges is anything more than a blowhard? Has he done anything to actually be arrested for? I know about his website advocating poisoning of wolves and dogs, but there are no laws preventing this kind of expression on the internet, unfortunately, I don’t think? That’s where it should start, but of course nobody wants to do that – infringing on people’s rights to do whatever they want trumps the threat of extinction? At some point, we’ll have to make that choice – and time is running out for much of our world’s iconic wildlife. It is very sad.

            I don’t know why when an offender is of a different race, everyone forgets the crime and just focuses on race. This man committed a crime for which he received a very lenient sentence, due to ‘cultural’ issues according to the judge.

            Every culture at one time or another has fed their family/community with wild game. This is not unique to this case. This man was not feeding his family with poached wildlife; he was selling it to the agents who caught him and many others. It was not subsistence hunting. And apparently there is a group of them, not just him, ‘feeding his family’. People who become citizens of this country cannot have it both ways; they should abide by this country’s laws. Punishments for poaching should be much more severe across the boards, and it is the same crime no matter who does it.

            I hope he gave his lawyer a bonus for getting him off so easy by playing the obvious.

            • avatar Ida Lupines says:

              Surely he could ‘check’ the local fish and game laws efore hunting to feed his family (and everyone who paid him for illegal game). It’s a tried and true favorite by some on the left side of the aisle to accuse racism, but it is really rather patronizing and insulting also to assume he didn’t know the law, and of course this gentleman played right along with that in order to get a lighter sentence!

              Sometimes animal rights/welfare advocates are their own worst enemies. We can only hope that the deal made can nab a few more of these poachers.

              • avatar Ida Lupines says:

                I have to say something also, while we’re on this subject – and the vaguely stated ‘hard choices’ our leadership is constantly referring to.

                Very soon, we are going to have to make a choice between the survival of our impoverished billions and the survival of our wildlife on the verge of extinction. I don’t think it looks very good for wildlife in the future, because we always will choose ourselves first, regardless of party affiliation. One party values money and capitalism, the other human rights and protection of workers. Who speaks for the environment and wildlife? And it isn’t the impoverished who buy rhino horn, ivory and Rocky Mountain grizzly bear gall bladders.

  8. avatar Joseph Allen says:

    Chicken shit penalty…..

  9. avatar Ed Loosli says:

    Ralph:
    So now in Idaho is 1 grizzly poacher down and about 100 un-prosecuted grizzly killers to go, since 1975. My real beef is with the feds (US Fish & Wildlife Service) who backed out of prosecuting this criminal on FEDERAL charges, which are actually real compared to Idaho’s fake charges. The FEDERAL charge for killing a threatened or endangered species like the grizzly bear is punishable by up to one year in prison, a maximum fine of $50,000, and up to one year of supervised release. If the Yellowstone grizzlies get “de-listed”, this kind of killing will become commonplace and Idaho obviously is NOT prepared to do anything about it, such as having severe deterrents in their law.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Ed Loosli,

      Do you have a list handy of the fines levied for federal convictions for killing grizzlies? I don’t. I expect they have been more severe, but I don’t recall any actual prison time ever being given and no $50,000 fines.

      State or federal these people never are punished all they deserve. I don’t think the future will be any better. It was hopeful that a Fremont County jury convicted the young man. Let me reiterate, Fremont County.

      • avatar Ed Loosli says:

        Yes, I agree that the conviction from Fremont County, Idaho is a good sign — Yes, Freemont County, more famous for Idaho potatoes than grizzlies.

      • avatar SAP says:

        You’ll recall this case from 2002, Sawtelle Peak:

        http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=8F850750-B253-297F-837EA04F9C7C9A9E

        Three months in prison, $20,300 in fines and restitution.

        I completely agree with Ralph, though, that this conviction by a Fremont County (ID) jury is unexpected. It may be that USFWS saw this as a chance to prove that the states could handle management authority (and it’s worth noting that the states already handle all day-to-day grizzly management tasks, other than enforcement).

        • avatar Ed Loosli says:

          SAP:
          Since Idaho F&G is not tasked with grizzly bear enforcement, exactly what other day-to-day grizzly management tasks are there for IDFG??

          • avatar SAP says:

            Monitoring, conflict prevention, capture and relocation of bears that get in trouble — that kind of thing.

  10. avatar Jeff N. says:

    I find the claim interesting that since this is the 1st person that Idaho has successfully prosecuted for illegally killing a grizzly since it was listed as endangered in 1975; that this somehow demonstrates that Idaho is ready to take over management of the grizz as a big game animal.

    It all seems a little to coincidental with the expectation that soon the grizzly’s delisting in the GYC will be recommended by the feds.

    I’m not sure how many previous cases occurred where prosecution failed since 1975, but a track record of success better than “one” might be a little more reassuring.

  11. avatar Ed Loosli says:

    It looks like the punishments for killing grizzly bears are getting weaker instead of stronger:

    Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    Date: April 12, 2006
    An Island Park, Idaho man who killed a grizzly bear cub, and a Saint Anthony man who destroyed a radio collar worn by the cub’s mother, were sentenced in federal court in Pocatello,ID – U.S. Attorney Tom Moss announced. The sow had been killed the day before by a 3rd man.
    Tim Brown will serve 3 months in prison for killing the cub, and pay a fine of $1000 and restitution of $19,300. Brad Hoopes will serve 2 months and pay a $500 fine and $500 in restitution for destroying the collar. Both men also lost their hunting privileges for 2 years. Kentucky bow hunter Dan Walters pled guilty in to killing the cub’s mother. He was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution and had his hunting privileges revoked for 2 years.

  12. avatar Mike says:

    Sorry Ralph, but I can’t believe you just used the talking points of those who want hunting seasons for grizzly bears.

    Idaho has shown itself incapable of managing wolves responsibly, and it will be no different for grizzlies.

  13. avatar Brett Haverstick says:

    Nice PR move on behalf of IDFG. This is well-orchestrated and something the state will use down the road when we get closer to grizzly de-listing.

  14. avatar Norm says:

    As a hunter that could possibly be able to hunt grizzlies in the future I am glad that he was convicted. However, I wish the fines were a little more severe. Many hunters would be outraged. If somebody takes a trophy class deer or elk there are harsher punishments than this. Us hunters have given vast amounts of money that goes towards helping a variety of wildlife. It really pisses us off when somebody goes out and poaches a trophy animal.

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