Man who sprayed bear gets jail time
By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
February 12, 2011
A Teton County man will serve two days in jail after admitting he used bear pepper spray on a captive bruin near the Triangle X Ranch last fall.
Tyler Steele, a professional hunting, fishing and float trip guide at the Triangle X Ranch, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty Thursday in U.S. District Court. Steele was 26 years old when he used bear pepper spray on the 177-pound male black bear while it was in a culvert trap Oct. 29, according to court records and officials.
Federal Magistrate Jim Lubing accepted Steele’s plea agreement and sentenced him to two days in jail, two years of unsupervised probation, 40 hours of animal-related community service and a $750 fine. Lubing also ordered Steele to pay $250 in restitution to the Grand Teton National Park Wildlife Fund and to get a substance abuse evaluation.
Grand Teton National Park wildlife managers set a culvert trap after the black bear broke into the main lodge building of the ranch Oct. 26, park officials said. Tracks left by the bear showed the animal also had investigated several cabins at the ranch, which is in Grand Teton.
After they captured the animal, wildlife managers killed the bear because they said it posed a threat to human safety.
Steele told Lubing he was drunk when he released pepper spray into the culvert trap and that his friends encouraged him to do it.
“I was under the influence of alcohol,” Steele said over a speaker phone from Seattle. “I think it was a cruel thing to do, your honor. It was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. I let a lot of people down.”
Lubing asked Steele about the particulars of the incident, including whether he emptied the entire can of bear spray into the trap and how the bear responded.
Steele said he didn’t think he emptied the can.
“[The bear] didn’t move,” Steele said. “It didn’t do anything.”
Lubing twice asked Steele if he owned a dog. Steele responded that he owned a German shepherd mix.
“I love him to death, your honor,” Steele said.
While discussing the details of the plea bargain, prosecutor Lee Pico and Steele’s attorney, Richard Stout, agreed to one day in jail in addition to the other penalties.
Lubing wanted the extra day.
“The only thing that concerns me is that one night in jail is not a very long time,” Lubing said.
Pico said Steele contacted him immediately and expressed his regret. Pico also pointed out that Steele cooperated with rangers during the investigation.
Stout said he spoke with Steele’s employer at the ranch.
“They tell me he is a valuable employee and that they’d be happy to have him back,” Stout said.
Steele will serve the two days in jail upon his return to Jackson Hole this summer to work at Triangle X. He must serve the two days in jail consecutively, and he must serve the sentence before July 1, Lubing said.