Man guilty in grizzly killings
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MISSOULA – A federal district judge has found a Bigfork man guilty of illegally killing three grizzly bears in May 2014.
On March 30, United States Magistrate Jeremiah Lynch found Dan Calvin Wallen, 54, guilty of three counts of unlawfully taking a threatened species.
“The only issue to be resolved based on the evidence presented at trial is whether Wallen acted in self-defense or in defense of his family when he shot the grizzly bears,” Lynch wrote.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials testified at a March 10 trial that the organization had received around a dozen calls about bears killing chickens, accessing garbage and having other conflicts with humans in Ferndale, Lake County, around the time Wallen shot the bears.
The story matched up with Wallen’s account that the bears had been killing his chickens. But the details of what happened next varied.
Wallen admitted to investigating authorities that he had shot at two bears, after one suffering from a gunshot wound was killed by a neighbor in May 2014. Wallen told authorities the animals had been killing his chickens and that the bears had been nearby while his family members played baseball outside.
Wallen’s wife called Fish, Wildlife and Parks a day after the incident to report bear troubles, and authorities found another dead grizzly on the Wallen’s property as they were setting a trap. A third dead grizzly was found in the yard of a neighbor in June, after the homeowner returned from vacation.
Necropsies revealed .22 caliber bullets in the bodies of the animals that were consistent with the rifle Wallen said he used to shoot at the bears.
While on trial, Wallen claimed he shot at the bears in self-defense and that he was within 15 feet of the animals at the time of the shootings.
Lynch did not believe Wallen adequately established a case for self-defense.
“Wallen gave materially conflicting versions of events and was not entirely forthcoming when he spoke (to the investigator) on the night in question,” Lynch wrote. “The Court concludes based on the record as a whole, and the substantial inconsistencies in Wallen’s stories and lack of credibility, that the government met its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Wallen did not have an objectively reasonable good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or his family from bodily injury when he shot at the three grizzly bears.
Sentencing has been set for May 12 in Missoula. Each count in the case carries a possible six-month jail sentence and $25,00 fine.