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Illegal Alaska Grizzly Bear Shoot Results in $5,000 Fine for Anchorage Man

December 13, 2011

By Craig Medred, AlaskaDispatch.com

Illegal grizzly bear shooting will cost Anchorage man dearly

A resident of Anchorage's Bear Valley who shot a grizzly bear sow in the back, killed her and orphaned three cubs has abandoned the claim he was acting in self-defense and pleaded guilty to illegal hunting. The cubs are now behind bars at the Detroit Zoo. Brian Garst, 24, will avoid a similar fate so long as he commits no further hunting or fishing violations and pays the state of Alaska $3,800 in fines and restitution.

District Court Judge Paul Olsen on Tuesday sentenced Garst to 30 days in jail and a fine of $5,000, but then suspended all of the jail time and half of the fine. Garst will, however, be on probation for three years, and if he commits some other offense in that time could be hit with the rest of the fine and the jail time for killing the mother of Boo, Thor and Mike -- as the bears have been named in Detroit.

Garst originally claimed he shot the sow grizzly in self-defense, but Alaska Wildlife Trooper John Cyr refused to buy that argument. It apparently had something to do with the facts that Garst shot the bear in the back, skinned it, kept the hide and never reported the shooting.

Alaska allows the shooting of grizzly bears in defense of life and property, and there are dozens of bears shot in Alaska every summer under what is commonly known as the "DLP provision" in state law. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson said that if Garth had reported the bear as a DLP kill, the young shooter might at least have been able to try to make a case the shooting was in self defense -- even if he shot the animal in the back.

The grizzly was, at the time, fleeing from the house where Garst was staying. It had a chunk of moose meat in its mouth. Garst had left the moose meat in the yard, though he knew well that bears still regularly roam aptly-named Bear Valley above Alaska's largest city. Some questioned whether maybe Garst shouldn't also have been charged with illegal bear baiting for leaving fresh meat out with bears around, and then shooting a bear that grabbed the meat.

Instead, the state officially charged him with a single count of hunting in a restricted management area, and Garst agreed to plead guilty to that charge. The Anchorage Management Area is closed to grizzly bear hunting. "We made him an offer, and he came into court and accepted," Peterson said.
Garst pitched the judge his story that it was all a big mistake; that he'd shot the sow by accident thinking he was shooting a large, male bear that had been causing problems. The sentence makes it appear Judge Olsen didn't give great weight to that argument.

When someone shoots a grizzly, keeps the hide and fails to report the shooting, Peterson noted, the courts "basically treat it as a hunting issue." In this case, an illegal hunting issue. Not only did Garst shoot the bear in a closed area, he also lacked a bear tag.

Along with being ordered to pay the $2,500 in fines, Garst was also told he owed the state $1,300 in restitution for the dead bear. Olsen also took away Garst's hunting privileges for a year, and he had to forfeit the hide, skill and claws of the bear.

State officials noted after the sentencing that the DLP law doesn't allow people to simply declare open season on bears. "Alaska law allows for the taking of bears in the defense of life or property provided that the taking is not brought about by the improper disposal of garbage or similar attractive nuisance and all other practicable means to protect life and property are exhausted," Peterson noted. "A person taking a bear in this manner must report the incident within 15 days and deliver the hide, skull and claws to Fish and Game. The prohibition against allowing someone to keep a bear killed in defense of life or property is designed to incentivize people to not shoot a bear unless all other practical means to protect life or property are exhausted."

Prosecution of Alaskans claiming DLP bear kills are rare. Sentences for illegally shooting bears, meanwhile, are all over the place: villagers in Bush Alaska caught shooting and dumping bears have had their hands slapped.
Wildlife guides have in some cases been fined tens of thousands of dollars.The requirement people skin the bear and remove its skull is a bit of disincentive, too. Skinning a bear is a task that takes even those skilled in the art an hour or so. On a big bear, a neophyte could be at the task most of a day, and it can be a little messy. Bears tend to have a lot of greasy fat just under their hides. The DLP hides forfeited to the state are sold at auction to help raise funds for wildlife management.

Though some view the death of the grizzly sow as tragic, more than a few wildlife biologists have noted the outcome for the cubs is probably not so bad. Rarely will a sow grizzly manage to successfully raise three cubs in the wild. Usually one or more will fall victim to another bear, starvation or an accident. Life is a lot harder for bears in the wild than in a zoo.
Scientists studying bears in Denali National Park and Preserve have noted that 65 percent of the cubs born to sows there die within the first year of life. The chances of survival get better after that, but still another 40 percent die as yearlings. One study noted that more than half the sows involved lost all the cubs in their litters. The sows in that 7-year-long study gave birth to 148 cubs. Ninety nine of them died in their first year of life. Of the 49 that survived, 20 more died the next year.

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