Convictions tough in bear shootings |

Convictions tough in bear shootings

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PITKIN COUNTY A wildlife manager who investigated the shooting of a yearling bear May 19 has presented his case to the district attorney’s office, but a decision on charges is a week or two away, officials said.There was no citation as of Friday, said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton. He said Kevin Wright, a longtime wildlife manager for the Aspen district, discussed the case earlier in the week with the district attorney’s office. Deputy DA Gail Nichols confirmed that there hasn’t been a decision on whether to charge the suspect. She declined to discuss the case further.A homeowner in Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park shot the yearling Colorado black bear. Wildlife division representatives said the bear was in a house, chased out, then fatally shot outside. The yearling weighed between 40 and 50 pounds.Wright questioned a suspect, but his name wasn’t released.If history is a guide, getting a conviction could be a challenge. The suspects in two other bear shootings in the Roaring Fork Valley this decade weren’t prosecuted.In one case, a man shot a bear he felt was threatening his wife and child while they were building a cabin on Basalt Mountain. He was cited, but former 5th Judicial District attorney Mike Goodbee ultimately dropped the charge as court proceedings began.In another case in Pitkin County, a resident of Upper River Road shot and killed a bear. The carcass ended up in the Roaring Fork River. The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case because a conviction was unlikely.Arnold Mordkin, a Snowmass Village defense attorney who defended the man who shot the bear on Basalt Mountain, said those types of cases are tough for prosecutors.”The real reason they’re hard to prosecute is you can defend yourself,” Mordkin said.Colorado law allows those who feel threatened by a bear to defend themselves with “deadly force,” he said. The reality is that bears can pose a risk even though some people like to think of them as “warm, cuddly things,” Mordkin said.His client in the Basalt Mountain case shot the bear after it had been hanging around his family’s cabin for an extended period. The man and his wife contacted the DOW and worked with wildlife officers to try to deter the bear from visiting their property. The tips from the wildlife officers didn’t work. The man shot the bear on one of its return trips in search of food.Mordkin said he figures the only time a person could be convicted for shooting a bear is if witnesses saw the shooter taking unprovoked “potshots.”DOW spokesman Hampton said it’s not that cut-and-dried. Numerous factors enter into a decision on whether to charge someone with shooting a bear.”Our officers, and any law officer, has discretion,” Hampton said.The key for investigators is interviewing the shooter and finding out “what they were thinking,” Hampton said. Some people may be more easily intimidated than others by a bear, depending on their experiences with hunting and wildlife, he noted. For example, a Roaring Fork Valley resident who hunts might have a different intimidation level than a second-home owner from a city.The size and the intent of the bear also weigh into the decision. A bear yearling that emerges from hibernation small and relatively weak poses a different threat than an adult putting on the pounds in the fall, Hampton said. It also makes a difference if the bear is acting aggressive or simply passing through a property, he said.Hampton stressed that he was talking in general terms and not about any specific case. Circumstances are always different, he said.In both prior cases in the Roaring Fork Valley where shooters weren’t prosecuted, the bears were adults.Statistics weren’t immediately available from the DOW on citations for bear shootings. Hampton said he is aware of only “a handful” of cases since he joined the division in 2004. There have been “less than a handful” of convictions, if any, he said.Hampton said it is no coincidence that three bear shootings have occurred in the Roaring Fork Valley.”You guys are in bear central,” he said. “There are a lot of bears and a lot of people – and a lot of people that aren’t used to bears.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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