From Staff Reports
Federal prosecutors will not be filing criminal charges against hunters who shot a grizzly bear in self-defense last year during an annual elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.
Investigators believe that the hunters made sound decisions in responding to a charging grizzly bear during an encounter that lasted less than 10 seconds, according to a statement released Thursday by the Grand Teton public affairs office.
The death of the adult male grizzly bear made headlines during an annual hunt aimed at curbing elk numbers in Grand Teton National Park. Some critics have said that hunting shouldn’t be allowed in the park. Wildlife managers say the elk hunts, held since 1950, have proven to be a safe and effective management tool.
Investigators from the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the circumstances of the Nov. 22 incident in which a father and two sons used bear spray and guns to defend against an adult male grizzly they encountered while legally hunting elk.
The hunters encountered the bear in a timbered area in the Snake River bottom, north of Schwabacher Landing and west of Teton Point Overlook. They spotted the bear and tried to scare it off but it charged from about 40 yards away.
In interviews with investigators, one hunter described the grizzly bear as moving “like a cat,” incredibly fast, snapping tree branches and moving very low to the ground.
One hunter used bear spray and two hunters fired on the bear when it was within 10 feet, according to investigators.
A partially consumed elk carcass was later discovered about 50 yards away, leading park biologists to conclude that the bear was defending its food source against what it perceived as a threat from the three hunters.
The bear weighed 534 pounds and was estimated to be 18-20 years old.
The hunters were appropriately permitted for the elk hunt and carried bear spray, as is required. Had they been found to have acted inappropriately, they could have faced federal charges for the illegal use of a firearm or taking wildlife in a national park.
The grizzly bear is the first killed by hunters in Grand Teton National Park since elk reduction hunts began.
Most human-caused grizzly fatalities in the park result from vehicle collisions, with a total of five grizzlies killed on park roads from 2005-12.
Grizzly-caused injuries to humans are relatively uncommon. Grand Teton has documented six attacks since 1994 when a jogger was mauled on the Emma Matilda Lake trail. Other maulings occurred in 2001, 2007 and 2011. A mauling also occurred in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in 1997. None of these bear attacks resulted in fatal injuries to humans.
Park managers are reviewing steps that might be taken to reduce such incidents in the future.
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