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December 16, 2008 4:11 am

Powell man sentenced for killing grizzly

Written by Tribune Staff

A Powell man was ordered to pay more than $13,000 in fines and restitution after illegally killing a grizzly bear this spring.

Last Wednesday, Marlin “Bret” Hatch, 50, pleaded no contest to a charge of taking a grizzly bear without a license May 27 in Sunlight. Hatch said that when he took the shot, he believed it was a black bear — which he was licensed to hunt.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters fined Hatch $3,000, ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Game and Fish, and assessed $30 in court costs.

Hatch's defense attorney, Joey Darrah, had sought a $750 fine and $6,000 in restitution.

Darrah noted that Hatch had immediately reported the accidental kill.

“This guy is probably one of the most ethical hunters you're going to find,” he said.

Witnesses testified to Hatch's character during the sentencing hearing.

“He's the kind of guy that goes out and picks up cigarette butts,” Darrah said.

In an affidavit in the case, Game Warden Chris Queen wrote that in the position he found the dead bear, it “did not appear to have a sizable hump.” Hatch told Queen that the bear was dark brown in color, looked stream-lined, and lacked a hump, the affidavit says.

“Bret (Hatch) was 100 percent confident that was a black bear,” Darrah said.

Only when he came back to recover the carcass the next day did Hatch see the long claws and realize he had shot a grizzly, the affidavit says.

The state, represented by Park County Attorney Brian Skoric, had asked for a $5,000 fine and the $10,000 in restitution.

Darrah said while he disagrees with the state's recommendation in the Hatch case, he respects it and the court's decision. He noted that the judge's hands “were tied a little bit” by state statute.

State law allows up to a $10,000 fine for the offense, and according to Game and Fish Commission restitution standards, a grizzly bear is valued at $25,000.

Darrah noted that state law makes no allowances for intent or other mitigating factors.

“You kill a grizzly bear without a license, you're guilty,” he said.

At the hearing, Judge Waters compared the offense to running a stop sign — the intent behind running the sign is immaterial.

It was the second grizzly case to be adjudicated in less than a month.

In late November, Rod Kilian, 46, of Cody was given a $4,000 fine and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution, also based on Skoric's recommendations. That killing took place on the North Fork May 7. Kilian had cited low visibility as a factor in thinking the animal was a black bear rather than a grizzly.

Skoric said both Hatch's and Kilian's killings appeared to be genuine accidents, and that both did “absolutely the right thing” in reporting their mistakes.

Had they not cooperated and been caught, “the state would be seeking a heck of a lot more,” he said.

In addition to the $35,000 in fines and restitution, a hunter could face a loss of hunting privileges, and a year of jail time.

Darrah said he feared the harsh penalties in Hatch's case would send the wrong message.

“There's going to be a disincentive to self-report,” he said.

“That's always a concern,” said Game and Fish spokesman Dennie Hammer.

However, he stressed that the Game and Fish always recommends you report it if you take an animal without a license.

“Where that goes from that point is effectively up to the prosecuting attorney and the judge,” Hammer said.

He said hunters lining up a probable black bear in their sights should ignore its color.

“The color is varied from bear to bear,” Hammer said.

Grizzly bears generally have a shoulder hump, long claws, a dish-shaped face, and smaller, rounded ears.

“Always use as many identifying characteristics as you possibly can,” Hammer said. If you can't feel confident about each attribute on the list, “then don't take the shot,” he said.

Skoric said that's the message he wanted to send with the case.

“If you're not 100 percent sure, or in this case, $13,000, $14,000 sure it's not a grizzly bear — don't shoot,” he said.

“The way I view it is maybe they shouldn't allow black bear hunting in the areas where there are grizzlies,” Darrah said. “Because it's going to happen again.”