Elk hunting is set to begin Saturday in Grand Teton National Park, and one area of the park where hunting was previously allowed will remain closed to hunters following violent conflicts there with grizzly bears in recent years.
In 2011 a hunter was mauled by a grizzly bear, and in 2012 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 a statement released last year 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.
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.
Grand Teton National Park is authorized by federal law to conduct an elk reduction program—when necessary—for conservation of the Jackson elk population. The legislation also directs Grand Teton to jointly develop this program with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and for the Governor of Wyoming and Secretary of the Interior Department to approve the annual plan.
A statement released this week by the park’s public affairs office said that “biologists and administrators from both agencies have reviewed available biological data and concluded that the 2014 program is necessary to keep the Jackson elk herd at, or near, objective and maintain a desired distribution of elk throughout their natural range.”
Hunters are required to carry and have “immediately accessible” bear spray as a non-lethal deterrent for use during potential bear encounters.
Park officials state that the need for elk hunts in Grand Teton “stems partly from an intensive management framework that includes annual winter feeding programs on the National Elk Refuge and in the upper Gros Ventre drainage.”
Park rangers monitor and patrol elk hunt areas to ensure compliance with rules and regulations, explain the hunt to visitors and provide hunters with information on local conditions associated with this wildlife management policy. For more information, call 307.739.3681.