A Marion man has been sentenced to three years probation and will be forced to pay $5,000 in restitution after admitting that he had taken the claws of a grizzly bear he shot in self-defense.
Bryan Berg, 35, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor illegal transport of grizzly bear claws in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Jan. 16.
According to federal prosecutors, Berg shot and killed a grizzly bear in self-defense in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in September 2017. After killing the bear, Berg cut off the animal’s claws as a “memento” and pushed it over the side of a mountain. Berg never reported the incident to law enforcement and later took the bear claws to Washington.
Later that month, law enforcement received a tip that Berg had shot and killed a grizzly bear. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents flew to the Hart Basin area where they had heard Berg had killed the animal and found the body of a grizzly bear with no claws. A necropsy determined that the bear had died from a gunshot wound.
Berg was interviewed in March 2018 and admitted that he shot the bear in self-defense. He also provided photos and videos of the scene to investigators. Berg told investigators that he was mad at the animal.
“I was so [expletive] mad at it because he was going to eat me, I know he was,” Berg told investigators. “So I basically said, ‘Hey, [expletive] you,’ and I cut his claws off. I did. I wanted to keep them as a memento.”
When asked why he never reported the incident to law enforcement, he said, “I was [expletive] terrified and thought I would roll the dice.”
Berg knew taking the claws was illegal, adding, “I was hoping I would never run into you two [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents].”
Berg gave the agents the stolen claws during the interview.
The man was charged with illegal transportation of grizzly bear claws (a violation of the Lacey Act) and failure to report the shooting of a grizzly bear within five days. Court documents note that, “reporting requirements are an important key to assist law enforcement in investigating legitimate self-defense incidents, which can lead to exoneration and identify possible public safety issues and concerns with injured wildlife or abandoned offspring.”
In December 2019, Berg signed a plea deal agreeing to admit guilt to the illegal transport charge. The failure to report charge was dropped.
The case was investigated in coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.