Pendleton Man Sentenced For Illegally Killing Two Baker County Rams

A Pendleton man was sentenced yesterday to pay $15,866 in fines and restitution, spend 20 days in jail and was placed on three years probation after being found guilty of illegally killing two Rocky Mountain bighorn rams in Baker County.

According to a press release from Baker County Circuit Court, James Bronson Jr., 54, killed the two sheep in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lookout Mountain Wildlife Management Unit south of Richland in December 2007 and September 2008.

It’s an important case because it hinged upon whether the rams were killed inside or outside the aboriginal hunting grounds of the Nez Perce, of which Bronson is an enrolled member, and has wider ramifications about the meaning of hunting privileges reserved in the tribe’s treaty of 1855 on “open and unclaimed lands” (discussed in a February 2010 Baker City Herald editorial).

In Washington, 1999’s Buchanan decision ruled that those terms mean public lands such as state and national forests within a tribe’s ceded area or where they traditionally hunted.

However, during the three-day trial in Baker City this week an expert witness from Lewis & Clark College in Portland testified that the Nez Perce did not hunt south of the Powder River, which along with Highway 86 forms the northern boundary of the Lookout Mountain game unit, according to the release. The state contended that the sheep were killed on the eastern side of the mountain, near Soda Lake and Conner Creek.

A former professor of anthropology at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston who testified for the defense could not be immediately reached.

Bronson must pay $6,800 in restitution to ODFW for each ram, has had his hunting privileges suspended for two years in Oregon, and was ordered to not hunt outside the ceded Nez Perce boundary, according to the press release. If he violates probation, it would result in another 170 days in jail.

“It is my hope that this sends a message that this type of illegal hunting activity will not be tolerated,” said District Attorney Matthew Shirtcliff in the press release. “The bighorn sheep is a limited resource that is susceptible to loss through illegal hunting and disease. The bighorn sheep must be protected to ensure opportunities for sustainable hunting in the future.”

ODFW issues two permits to hunt bighorns in the Lookout Mountain unit and several hundred annually apply for them.

Shirtcliff thanked to Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife Division officers for their investigation and the help of deputy district attorney Chris Storz.

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