From Staff Reports
Following violent encounters between hunters and grizzly bears in each of the last two years, Grand Teton National Park managers are changing how elk hunts within the park will operate this fall.
Changes outlined in a statement released Wednesday are aimed at reducing the likelihood of future bear-human conflicts and minimizing the chances that hunters will fire at elk they aren’t sure they can kill.
Hunts aimed at reducing the burgeoning elk herds around Grand Teton have been held since 1950, usually without incident. Most national parks do not allow hunting, but Grand Teton is one of the few that does, as provided for in its establishing legislation.
In 2011 a hunter was mauled by a grizzly bear, and last year a grizzly was fatally shot when it charged three elk hunters. No charges were filed in that case after investigators determined the hunters acted appropriately in self-defense. In both cases, the bears were found to be protecting elk carcasses which they had been feeding on.
The area where both incidents happened—a section of the Snake River bottom between the Deadman’s Bar river access road and Ditch Creek—will be closed during future hunts.
The closure is necessary “to decrease the probability of grizzly bear-hunter conflicts in an area of thick timber and poor visibility,” the National Park Service said in Wednesday’s statement released by the park’s public affairs office.
As grizzly bears have recovered across the greater Yellowstone area and their numbers have increased in the Grand Teton area, the likelihood of conflicts with hunters and other people has increased.
The annual elk hunt comes at a time when bears are on a seasonal eating binge in an attempt to put on weight for hibernation. Gut piles left by hunters as well as the carcasses of elk that are wounded and later die have proven to be an attractive food source for grizzlies at a time when hunters are moving throughout the area.
Other new restrictions outlined by the Park Service include limiting the total number of rounds of ammunition to seven per hunter and limiting the number of shots fired by a hunter at a group of running elk. Both measures are meant to force hunters to carefully consider each shot to avoid wounding an elk rather than accomplishing a clean kill.
A new hunt area will open between the Gros Ventre River and the road to Kelly to replace the recently closed section.
Those opposed to the annual elk hunts have argued that it is dangerous to both grizzlies and people, and that hunting should not be allowed in the park.
Park managers and Wyoming wildlife officials have said the hunts are necessary to maintain appropriate elk herd numbers.
Hunters must carry bear-resistant spray and will be required starting this year to use lead-free ammunition.
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