A Bigfork man was found guilty of unlawfully killing three grizzly bears near Ferndale in 2014.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch on Monday found Dan Calvert Wallen guilty on all three counts of killing a threatened species.
Wallen will be sentenced in federal court on May 12. Grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Each count carries a potential penalty of six months in jail and a $25,000 fine.
According to Brian Lakes, special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who investigated the incidents, Wallen shot the three bears after they consistently approached and entered a chicken coop at his residence.
On May 27, 2014, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Chuck Bartos responded to a report of a man killing a grizzly. Court records state that Wallen admitted to shooting at the bear with a .22 rifle to scare it away from his chicken coop. Wallen told Bartos he was unaware if he hit the animal after it fled. Tim Clark, Wallen’s neighbor, contacted Wallen and said an injured grizzly was lying in the road behind their houses. Clark said the grizzly was seriously wounded and could only raise its head and front paws. Clark disposed of the grizzly by shooting it in the head with a .300 Remington rifle.
Investigators skinned the dead grizzly and found two small holes had punctured its stomach.
FWP Bear Biologist Tim Manley had received a voicemail message from Wallen’s wife stating the family was having problems with grizzly bears killing chickens. Wallen later reported that the grizzlies had killed more than 20 chickens in the days leading up to the incidents. The fence around the chicken coop was not electrified but there was a strand of barbed wire around the top. The grizzlies had smashed through the main door to the coop.
Manley contacted the family and asked if he could set up traps to capture the bears, and on May 28, while at the residence, Manley discovered a second dead grizzly in the brush near the location of the first dead grizzly, according to court documents.
Bartos interviewed Wallen about the second dead bear, and Wallen stated that he had chased away and later shot at the bears during a previous night when the animals had approached his chicken coop while family and friends were around. Wallen stated two grizzlies had arrived and he first drove them off with his pickup truck. After they came back, he told Bartos he fired several shots at the bears and they fled. Another grizzly later emerged to pursue the chickens and Wallen said it was the bear he shot at and Clark eventually killed.
On June 4, another neighbor of Wallen’s returned home from vacation and discovered a dead grizzly bear that had decomposed in the grass near her home. Bartos responded to the report and an investigation discovered the animal had been dead for roughly one week.
Court records state that investigators determined each of the three grizzlies was killed by bullets from a gun consistent with Wallen’s rifle.
Lakes, the FWS investigator, determined that there was probable cause to charge Wallen with three counts.