JACKSON, Wyo. - The 41-year-old hunter shot the bear in what he thought was self-defense. Standing up next to the moose carcass, the bear had looked at him hard.
"My instincts were telling me that bear was going to kill me and I had to act," said the hunter, who lives in Jackson Hole.
Jurors concluded otherwise. In what experts tell the Jackson Hole News & Guide will be an important message to hunters and others, the man was found guilty of the misdemeanor crime of killing the bear, a grizzly.
"Under the circumstances, we feel the defendant acted out of fear instead of self-defense," the verdict said. The punishment, however, was nominal.
Steve Weichman, the prosecuting attorney, told the newspaper that it was the one of the first cases in the United Sates where a person was convicted of taking wildlife when claiming self-defense.
"You are not going to be prosecuted if you killed a bear in self-defense, but you need to be prepared to establish reasonable grounds for your claim of self-defense," Weichman added.
The verdict has particular importance given that the grizzly bear population in northwestern Wyoming has been expanded, even as a new U.S. policy allows firearms in national parks, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Importantly, as seen from Weichman's perspective, the jury included a broad cross-section of the local community - including hunters. But others did not concur. The News & Guide carried letters from out-of-state readers dismayed by the verdict.
"I cannot for the life of me believe it has come to this, that an animal's life is more valuable than a human being's," wrote Jon Rahlf of Decorah, Iowa.
To Dave Smith, from Avalon, Calif., the verdict seemed to indicate that the hunter should have used bear spray if he felt threatened. But Smith says bear spray is neither a "safe nor a realistic alternative to a firearm when a hunter has a surprise encounter with a nearby grizzly."
The hunter had known of the moose carcass for several days. He said he shot the bear about 10 seconds after seeing it, then began running toward his hunting camp, the head and cape of a mule deer that he had killed earlier still strapped to his backpack. He described himself as paranoid.
"I thought I heard noises - very scared," he said.
Authorities credited him with reporting the killing, and he also expressed remorse. "I hear the sound that bear made every day I wake up," the hunter said at his trial.
Mark Bruscino, bear management program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, described a continuum of bear behaviour. People have been justified in some cases for killing bears, but the circumstances of each encounter must be evaluated, including the bear's behaviour at the time and any potential escape routes.
Bruscino said the onus is on people to understand bears, as they can expect to encounter grizzlies across all of northwest Wyoming. "I don't think you can go out anymore and expect never to encounter a bear."
The famous wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who lives in Jackson Hole, took the killing personally. The bear in question had been seen often, with its mother and another cub, during recent years along a well-used road in Grand Teton National Park. "She brought joy, laughter and amazement to hundreds of thousands of tourists."
The incident does bring to mind the experiences of Charlie Russell, of Alberta, who has spent his summers in Kamchatka, Russia, raising grizzly bears orphaned by hunters. Appearing at Telluride's Mountainfilm Festival several years ago, he explained that while there are limits to human-grizzly interactions, the bears are a lot less formidable than most people think. Humans, he said, react out of fear, not knowledge.
Grizzlies in Alberta lose another member
BANFF, Alberta - The grizzly bear population in the Banff-Canmore area, already considered to be on the thin edge of sustainability, took another blow recently when another young bear was killed.
The bear was hit and killed by a passing train. It was the 11th bear killed in or near the Bow River Valley since 2000. Most have been females, and several have left cubs. Trains have been a major culprit.
One such orphaned bear, whose mother had been killed by a train, had been hanging out near two golf courses and a residential area. Authorities decided the bear needed to be relocated, but fear it will not survive in the new area because a large sow already lives in the vicinity.
Taking stock of Alberta's struggling grizzly bear population, author Jeff Gailus contends it need not be that way. "In the greater Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly numbers are actually growing," Gailus told the Rocky Mountain Outlook .
"In Alberta, they're dwindling. It's all a matter of values. There's no reason we can't have a strong economy and also have the grizzly bear and caribou and clean water. It's not like we're the only place that has had to make those value-based decisions."
Gailus, a former newspaper reporter, has issued a book called The Grizzly Manifesto . He contends that logging and mining roads have fragmented the habitat in Alberta and that Canada provides a weak legal framework for protection policies.
"In Canada, our political system in general is based on inherent trust, while the U.S. system is based on distrust," Gailus said. "Consequently, in the U.S. there are many checks and balances to hold government accountable."
Adds Gailus: "From a moral perspective, what the Alberta government is doing is just wrong."
Bears don't really prefer the garbage of humans
ASPEN, Colo. - Do bears get addicted to garbage? That's been one common belief. Allow bears to get a taste of human food, went this line of thinking, and no way will they go back to eating berries, nuts and other victuals from the backcountry.
But a new study of bears in the Aspen area led by a doctoral candidate from Colorado State University finds this thinking has been all wrong. Sharon Baruch-Mordo, after several years of study, finds that bears will seek human sources only when nature's bounty turns thin, as in drought years.
In a presentation covered by the Aspen Times , Baruch-Mordo used the example of one bear, who has been tracked since 2005. In years when nature supplied abundant berries and other food, the bear got no closer to Aspen than its periphery. When natural food supplies were poor, she was "all over town," Baruch-Mordon said.
Baruch-Mordo's team concluded that the key to reducing conflicts between bears and humans is to ensure that garbage remains secured at all times, particularly when natural crops fail.
To prevent pillaging, a garbage can must be well-designed and employ sturdy materials - something that Colorado wildlife officials say isn't always the case, even with so-called bear-resistant containers. They say some containers provided by trash haulers have lids that even a man can break open.
Light-trespass ban extended to county
KETCHUM, Idaho - Some years after the towns of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey adopted a law restricting light pollution and trespass, the Blaine County commissioners have done the same for their more rural precincts.
The new law prohibits new outdoor lighting fixtures from sending light directly onto adjacent property or public right-of-ways.
For long-time activist Steve Pauley, a resident of Sun Valley, that's still not enough. He wants the law applied retroactively to existing lighting fixtures on houses and businesses. He cites it as both a quality-of-life and a health issue. He cited new evidence that has linked night-time lighting to harmful effects on human health.
Even if Pauley considers the regulation too tame, others in the Sun Valley area resent it.
"We are getting pretty tired of others telling us what to do," groused one blogger on the Idaho Mountain Express website.
But another blogger said that the accretion of many small lights has already sullied the quality of life.
"I am neither an astronomy geek nor a liberal, but I do like to be able to look up and see the stars," he wrote. "When I moved here, one could see all seven stars in Pleiades glittering in their glory. Now one can see a grouping of an indeterminate amount of stars. We are losing something of value."
Defenders say working people need big boxes
CANMORE, Alberta - Canmore continues to debate whether it wants to accept additional big-box corporate retailers in its midst. Those opposing argue that such retailers represent homogenization and will defile Canmore's relative individuality, what some might call its small-town quaintness. They point to such mass-market offerings in metropolitan Calgary, less than an hour away.
Balderdash, say supporters. They argue that Canmore's existing stores lack items needed for everyday living. And what items the stores do have carry inflated prices.
"Maybe we should just toddle uptown and buy a $300 jacket or a pair of shoes for $200," one letter in the Rocky Mountain Outlook sarcastically said. Said another more straight-forwardly: "Our so-called designer shops don't carry anything practical."
Taking stock of Canmore more broadly, letter-writer Grant Robinson pooh-poohed Canmore's supposed distinctiveness. "We aren't more unique than any other busy mountain resort town in North America," he writes.
"If we do carry a uniqueness, we may have more people that (good or bad) want to save the world, thinking their NIMBY attitudes are a good start. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind helping you save the world. Just let me go buy a pair of steel-toed work boots before we get started."
Towns debate virtues of backyard housing
DURANGO, Colo. - With precise blandness, planners call them "accessory dwelling units," often reduced to the acronym ADUs. When on the property of old and large houses, they're called carriage houses. Sometimes they're called granny flats.
By whatever name, the unattached housing units have been proliferating in communities, including those in resort valleys of the West. Now, with the recession trimming economic sails, there seems to be a new push to maximize land values.
Newspapers in both the Sun Valley and Durango areas in recent weeks have carried stories about ADU concerns. In Durango, the Herald reports that such units are somewhat common in that town's downtown area, but some people fear their proliferation in other areas. One resident said she believes ADUs cater to transient people, resulting in loss of community character.
But if that is so, why is the town's mayor living in an ADU? Michael Rendon and his wife live in a 500-square-foot building located on the alley of his property, while they presumably rent out their three-bedroom house at the front of the lot. "It's much easier to clean," he said.
Rendon, who decries urban sprawl, says that ADUs can provide more affordable housing while also keeping development compact, making better use of streets and other community infrastructure.
For architects, designing small represents a distinct challenge. The newspaper says Rick Feeney welcomes that challenge.
"For decades, houses got bigger and bigger and bigger. McMansions ruled for years. Now, the pendulum is swinging back the other way," he said.
While Feeney has designed his fair share of big, he likes the challenge of small. "With ADUs, you have to get into a very minimalistic mindset."
Indicators suggest a quickened economy
JACKSON, Wyo. - Economic indicators suggest a quickening pulse in Jackson Hole this summer. Airline bookings have increased 10 per cent compared to last summer, likely producing an additional 18,000 people who will be making dining reservations at the cloth-napkin restaurants and buying the usual trinkets. Auto traffic more broadly in the Rocky Mountains has been projected to increase also.
Real estate will be a mixed bag. Sales volume will likely increase anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent, one long-experienced industry insider told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
Development, however, will continue to lag. There's not much in the pipeline, and one local architect points an accusatory finger at local planning bodies that review building plans.
But the newspaper also tells of foreclosure proceedings filed against a multimillion dollar parcel at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Two years ago, local authorities had granted approval to build an 182,000-square-foot hotel using the name The Little Nell, making it an offshoot of the hotel bearing the same name in Aspen. The developer, Rob DesLauriers, told the newspapers that the project was put on hold 18 months ago when construction financing was not available. With that, he said, the name Little Nell expired. DesLauriers said he hopes to find a lender willing to rewrite the loan or a buyer for the property.
Telluride likely to tax plastic grocery bags
TELLURIDE, Colo. - Telluride and the adjoining town of Mountain Village appear ready to assess a tax on use of plastic shopping bags. The Telluride Watch reports unanimous support in a recent working session of the town council.
Helping steel the determination was the showing of a movie called "Bag It" at the recent Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. The documentary presents a compelling argument for the need to rein in the rampant use of plastic.
The easiest target about such concerns has been the plastic bags liberally used in grocery and other stores. The nation of Ireland famously imposed a 15-cent tax on plastic bags in 2002, cutting use by 90 per cent. Various U.S. cities - Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C. - have also taken action, with varying success.
Because of its tourist trade, Telluride believes that an outright ban on plastic bags would prove unworkable. Instead, activists and town leaders think a tax on single-use plastic bags handed out at grocery stores will be most effective.
Activist David Allen, who began lobbying for a disincentive three years ago, warns that Telluride may be lobbied by national trade groups. In Seattle, he said, opponents spent $1 million in helping persuade voters to overturn the 20 cent fee on paper and plastic bags that city had enacted.
Rivers howl with runoff in Vail and Eagle Valley
VAIL, Colo. - Spring runoff hasn't roared quite so loudly in the Vail area since at least 1994 and possibly not since 1983. Unusually hot weather of late May and early June this year has eviscerated the lingering snowpack, causing Gore Creek to pound through Vail. One bike and pedestrian path was destroyed and water was crowding homes and businesses, causing an undetermined amount of damage.
Where Gore Creek flows into the Eagle River, just west of V ail, one rafter from Aspen died after being thrown into the trashing waters. On Sunday, organizers of the Teva Mountain Games called off the whitewater competition, saying the dangers were just too high even for well-experienced and adventuresome kayakers.
Darryl Bangert, a long-experienced in the local waters, advised fellow boaters and kayakers to thoroughly evaluate risks. With water levels eight feet higher, the rules change, he told the Vail Daily. "Eight feet is unbelievably fun, but there are unbelievable penalty points."
In Vail itself, stream gauges showed 2,270 cubic feet per second. The other high marks for spring runoff in the last decade were 1890 cfs and 1625 cfs.
Vail to host world ski event in 2015
VAIL, Colo. - Vail and Beaver Creek have won the right to host the 2015 World Alpine Skiing Championships. This will be the third go-around for the resort complex, which also hosted the championships in 1989 and 1999 - the first time since Aspen hosted the ski-racing champions in the 1940s that a U.S. resort had had that distinction.
What does it mean in terms of hosting the Olympics? There was no conjecture in the newspapers whether hosting this plumb event will either aid or hinder a bid by Vail or others in Colorado to secure the Olympics in 2022. Privately, some confidants said it would have no effect.
But will this usher in a new round of prosperity in the Vail area? Hosting the 1989 races helped position Vail more firmly on the global stage. Real estate developers said the races weren't a consideration, but one developer said he clearly sees a home run. By 2015, he said, the economic cycle will have returned to what it was earlier in the last decade. Time, of course, will tell whether he is merely excitable or percipient.