Last week the leader of a Czech tour group attacked March 19 by a polar bear at Fredheim was fined 10,000 kroner by The Governor of Svalbard for not taking the necessary precautionary measures before the incident took place.
The case is the first of its kind after a section on safeguarding against polar bear attacks was added to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act on April 20, 2012.
"Article 30a was added in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, which is an enactment of what authorities believe behavior should be to prevent confrontations between bears and humans," said Lt. Gov. Jens Olav Sæther.
The trip leader's fine is pursuant specifically to section 30a and this is the first time the governor has acted on the clause since it was passed into law.
The sentencing therefore sets a precedent for the next time the provision needs to be applied.
"It is true that this case will set a precedent for similar cases in the future, but the influence of economics when it comes to the case can also be factored in," said Sæther, emphasizing each case will be assessed individually. "Moreover, there may be other circumstances in future cases that mean the penalty may be higher or lower."
Violations of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act are punishable by fines or imprisonment up to one year. If there are especially aggravating circumstances, imprisonment for up to three years may be imposed.
The result in this case, as mentioned, was a fine of 10,000 kroner.
"We believe it is a reasonable amount," Sæther said. "It is not too strict or too mild, and highlights our views on the matter. There should be a punishment that reflects the seriousness of the action."
Hasn't agreed to pay the fine
The Czech man has not yet decided whether he will agree to pay the fine.
A person generally has five days to make such a decision, but since man is in the Czech Republic, and may need some explanation and advice from the governor's office, Sæther has agreed to give him a little more time.
"We have had close contact with them throughout. These seems like decent people who responded to inquiries from us as soon as we asked for it," said Sæther, adding the governor has not been working in association with Czech police in the case.
If the man chooses not to accept the fine, the case will be brought to court.
"Then prosecutors will put down a fine of about 12,500 kroner for the allegation," said Sæther, adding it is common to get some reduction in sentence when a person chooses to accept a penalty and thus save public resources required in connection with a possible lawsuit.
Cleared of the shooting
As for the harm caused by shooting the polar bear, which led to it being euthanized by the governor, that part of the case was dismissed on the grounds that no provable offense was committed.
“There were a clear emergency when the bear entered the tent and attacked one of the people,” a statement at the governor's website announcing the decision asserts. “Based on the governor’s investigation the woman who shot and injured bear in this situation was entitled to avert the attack with all available means.”
Translated by Mark Sabbatini