Making False Claims About Frequency Of Bear Attacks Brings Charges Against Wyoming Hunter

May 28, 2010

Stephen Westmoreland was charged with a misdemeanor of illegally killing a grizzly bear in the Ditch Creek area north of Jackson Hole. Westmoreland had claimed self defense but jurors didn’t see it that way. According to the Jackson Hole News, the jury statement claimed Westmoreland acted out of fear and not defense.

“Under the circumstances, we feel the defendant acted out of fear instead of self-defense,” the verdict said.

Whether or not the jury was given a “legal” definition of self defense, I don’t know. However, according to, we are provided with 3 definitions of what self defense is.

the act of defending one’s person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant: the art of self-defense.
a claim or plea that the use of force or injuring or killing another was necessary in defending one’s own person from physical attack: He shot the man who was trying to stab him and pleaded self-defense at the murder trial.
an act or instance of defending or protecting one’s own interests, property, ideas, etc., as by argument or strategy.

I think it safe to say that Westmoreland was not practicing the “art” of self defense. If you look at the other two definitions we see that there exists a certain gray area in which one’s perception of the danger comes into play. How can we determine that? The jury claims Westmoreland acted out of fear. Isn’t it fear that would drive virtually every human who encountered a grizzly bear to react in some fashion?

But I’m not here exactly to argue the verdict rendered by this jury. What I did want to point out is what I see as a huge contradiction on the part of a witness which I’m sure played a significant role in influencing the decision of the jury.

Mark Bruscino, bear management program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, was an “expert” witness in the trial who explained how bears act and react when encountering humans. As is always the case in predator attacks on humans, the so-called “experts” throw out the claim that this occurrence is “rare”. Such was the case here and Bruscino goes on to explain that it is the responsibility of anyone going into grizzly country to understand bear behavior and act accordingly. Frankly, I find this bovine excrement, at least to the extent this was carried out in this case.

“This whole thing adds up to that people need to make sure they are in a self-defense situation,” Bruscino said in an interview after the trial. “You can’t kill wildlife based on an undemonstrated fear of an unrealistic threat.”

When a person is driving in their car on ice and snow and they feel the car begin to fishtail. Out of fear they will slam on the brakes, sending them into a skid and ultimately wrecking the car. Had they however kept their cool and implemented all the proper defensive maneuvers to apply while driving on snow, they might have avoided an accident. Do we criminally charge someone who “should have known” how to react and failed to do so? Heck no! They reacted out of FEAR! To them the brake will save them. Are you going to have the kahunas to “look big” and “make noise” in hopes a bear will retreat? Some will. Most won’t.

But here’s the contradiction that I’m sure few, if any, will pick up on. Bruscino goes on to make this claim:

During the trial, Bruscino described a continuum of bear behavior. A grizzly that encounters a human will flee 99 percent of the time, he said. After that, bear behavior might include disinterest in a human, curiosity followed by a retreat, stress behaviors such as excessive salivation and panting, bluff behavior such as false charges and finally an attack. (emphasis added)

Are we to believe bears flee 99% of the time? This is “expert” testimony. This is what may or may not result in charging a man of illegally killing a grizzly he thought would attack him. You can’t just willy-nilly toss out numbers when the conviction of a man is at stake. Or maybe some are just more concerned about the grizzly bears.

If we go back a bit further in the article, we find this interesting tidbit of information.

Last year, seven grizzly bears were killed by hunters and hikers in self-defense situations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Let’s disregard any notion that any of these people who killed grizzlies did so illegally. They must not have been driven by fear and clearly acted in self defense. Having said that, seven grizzlies were killed last year alone in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wow! If 99% of bear/human encounters end up with the bear running away, then there must have been something in the order of 700 or more human/grizzly bear encounters. I would have to assume that these were only hunters and hikers as is stated being the ones who killed grizzlies IN SELF DEFENSE. How many hunters and hikers do we have to put in the woods in order to get that rare occurrence of 700 or more grizzly bear encounters?

Isn’t that an awful lot of encounters? What are the odds of seeing a grizzly while in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there were “more than 500″ grizzlies in the GYE in 2006. How many now? 800? 1000?

Maybe I fail to grasp the full understanding of the situation. The GYE is quite large and even if there were now 1,000 bears in the GYE and thousands of hikers and hunters covering that area in one year, that still is a lot of grizzly/human encounters and 7 bears ending up dead is a lot. Think of the number of grizzly spottings by hunters and hikers that never get reported.

Sorry, this just doesn’t add up for me. I’ve lived my whole life in the woods. For over 48 years I’ve hunted the woods of Maine, where there are far more black bears than are grizzly bears in the GYE. And some report that black bears are far more aggressive than grizzlies.

Maine is just over 21,000,000 acres in size with an estimated black bear population over 20,000. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been measured as big as 20,000,000 acres and perhaps as small as 4,000,000 acres, depending on which boundaries one uses to define the GYE, with a population of grizzlies probably around 1,000.

In my miles and miles of travel on foot in the Maine woods all these years, I’ve encountered black bears perhaps three times, all from considerable distance and none aware of my presence. (Note: I do not bear hunt)

So, I can only conclude that those people who shot seven grizzlies last year in self defense are either lying or it’s not accurate to say that 99% of the time bears will run away.

Tom Remington


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