- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

A Stafford County [Va.]man, as part of a court agreement, will pay a $1,000 "replacement cost" for shooting a bear he claims came within 5 feet of his back door.
When the fee is paid — and if defendant Robert Ooten, a U.S. Army master sergeant, steers clear of the law for the next six months — a misdemeanor charge of killing a bear outside of a legal hunting season will be dismissed.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, in addition to the replacement fee to the Virginia Game Protection Fund.
Sgt. Ooten, 45, did not return a call from The Washington Times. His attorney, Steven Webster, said there was no plea, no evidence presented and no finding of guilt during the court appearance Tuesday in Stafford County General District Court.
According to charging papers, a Virginia game warden called to Sgt. Ooten's home in the Berea Woods area on the night of May 19 found a bear shot in the back of the head.
Sgt. Ooten "had shot a black bear and claimed that it was coming at him," the warden, Sgt. Joseph Dedrick, wrote in the court papers.
"It was lying in a bag of trash facing away from the house and approximately 54 feet from where the shots were fired," Sgt. Dedrick stated.
Mr. Webster said the 200-pound male bear had come within 5 feet of his client's back door and was standing with its front paws in the air. A second bear appeared, and left after Sgt. Ooten fired his gun.
"He didn't go out looking for them," the lawyer said.
State law allows homeowners to defend themselves from a bear attack, or threat of an attack.
However, after the charge was filed, Capt. Mike Bise of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said: "If we had evidence indicating it was self-defense, we would not have placed the charge."
Game officials said at least three bears had been raiding trash cans and bird feeders in the area for several weeks prior to the shooting.
State biologist David Steffen said the replacement fee is "to compensate the public for the loss of this public resource," adding that it is hard to put a dollar value on wildlife.
There are 4,000 or more black bears in Virginia, mostly in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on the North Carolina border, according to the game department.
Young male bears are sent out to live on their own in the spring and sometimes wander into the suburbs as they seek to establish their own territory. They generally avoid humans.
The state has a bear-hunting season that begins in the fall, though hunting is never permitted in Stafford County.

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