I haven't seen any pics of the bear yet, so I have no idea how valid their case is or not.
First it wasn't like they were just poaching. Second, they went to an area that does not normally have grizzlys. Third, again not seeing the pictures, it could be a young grizzly with an underdeveloped hump. A lot would depend on how/if they came clean on it and what they proposed to do to make it right. I can't see throwing the book at someone for an honest mistake. As long as it wasn't an "oops~~sorry...." kind of thing. I kind of got the feeling three guys were congratulating themselves and showing off their bear when someone told them it was a grizzly and they all went, "What??"
I've seen California Brown bears (sub-species of the grizzly) that supposedly "didn't exist". We were told, by the California Fish and Game, they were "black bears in brown coloration....with a slightly larger hump than the black bears in black coloration that kept getting into gardens and orchards down along the edges of Eagle Valley, NV. That would be Gardnerville/Minden. Except where we saw the black bears was around Woodfords and up in Hope and Faith Valleys. The "non-grizzly's" we saw were up in the high meadows of the East Fork of the Carson River.
All that as opposed to the California hunter, who was caught with a gall bladder, four paws and a head. Oh, and a .45 pistol. He was a two strike felon and had a restraining order against him. So, it was pretty much illegal for him to even have a firearm. He only got two years.
Poacher Receives Two-Year Prison Sentence for Wasting Game, Other Offenses « CA DFG News