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Grand Teton National Park Tweaks Rules For Annual Elk Reduction Hunt


Hunters who participate in the annual elk reduction hunt at Grand Teton National Park better be great shots, as they'll be limited to how many shots they'll be able to take.

The new rules come in the wake of the fatal shooting of a grizzly bear during last fall's hunt, which is mandated by the park's enabling legislation as a means to control the size of the Jackson elk herd at roughly 11,000 animals.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2012, an adult grizzly was shot and killed by hunters participating in the annual hunt. That incident followed a 2011 mauling of a hunter by a grizzly in the same area. Grizzly bear-hunter conflicts in Grand Teton have escalated as the distribution and density of grizzly bears has increased.

New rules for the 2013 hunt include:

* Limiting possession of ammunition per hunter to seven cartridges daily to decrease the potential for elk "wounding loss," as the adjacent National Elk Refuge (NER) has required for several years.

* Limiting to one the number of shots fired by a hunter at a group of running elk, also to decrease the potential for elk "wounding loss."

* Requiring the use of non-lead ammunition by hunters-who are deputized rangers while they participate in the hunt.

Beginning in 2009, the NPS required the use of non-lead ammunition by park rangers for all culling operations and for the dispatching of sick or wounded animals. Requiring non-lead ammunition will help reduce lead contamination throughout the park environment, where researchers have documented ingestion of lead from bullets by eagles and other scavengers.

* Closing the portion of the Snake River bottom between the Deadman's Bar river access road and Ditch Creek to decrease the probability of grizzly bear-hunter conflicts in an area of thick timber and poor visibility.

* Opening to hunting the area between the Gros Ventre River and the road to Kelly, immediately adjacent to the National Elk Refuge and between Gros Ventre Junction and a point just west of the Gros Ventre campground. This measure is designed to increase elk harvest and replace the loss of hunt areas due to closure of the river bottom.

* Opening Hunt Area 79 to Type IV Hunt Area 75 license holders for two weeks at the beginning of the ERP season to focus on Grand Teton summer-resident elk and to spread out the hunters.

Existing measures already in place to mitigate grizzly bear-hunter encounters include:

* Prohibiting the use of artificial elk calls.

* Requiring hunters to carry a can of EPA-registered bear spray in a way that it is readily available for use.

* Providing camping areas with bear-resistant carcass storage facilities.

* Providing bear safety literature to all ERP permit holders.

* Maintaining a high contact rate (approximately 30 percent) between park rangers and hunters in the field to help inform and educate hunt participants about bear safe hunting practices.


Grand Teton National Park implementing changes for the 2013 Elk Reduction Program is more a story about the Park's public admission of the horrific and dangerous mess they have on their hands than anything meaningful.

Limiting the number of cartridges the notoriously reckless park hunters can carry to seven is practically unenforceable and it has been proven seven cartridges is certainly more than enough to kill an endanger species grizzly bear. Attempting to limit and enforce the number of shots fired at a herd of running elk to one shot is a sad commentary of the quality of hunters attracted to Grand Teton National Park each year.

Closing the Snake River bottom area to hunting and opening two other areas of the park is not solving the potential for bear-hunter conflicts in the Park and will move the increasing problem closer to the residential areas of Kelly and west of the Gros Ventre Junction.

For the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Grand Teton National Park to propose Park elk hunting in one of the most sensitive moose habitat areas along the Gros Ventre River during a critical time of year is completely adverse to science and will equate to political suicide.

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott is continuing to foolishly roll the dice with the safety and welfare of Park wildlife and visitors. It is now clear that only the death or crippling of a Park visitor will force the Superintendent to act responsibly and stop the hunt.

I admit that I'm not up to date on Teton's "elk hunt." But I'll bet a steak dinner that the superintendent is trying hard to negotiate the narrow confines of a maze of political pressures and decisions that are completely outside her control. It would be wonderful if we had some way to backtrack through it all and find out what Congressional and profit pressures are really at work here. Given that this is occurring in Wyoming, I'll bet it goes clear back to the days when the Wyoming Congressional delegation and others were fighting tooth and nail to prevent the establishment of Grand Teton in the first place.

Does anyone know?

Lee seems to be right on target.

The answer to his question is found in Section 6 of "AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A NEW GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK IN THE STATE OF WYOMING, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES, Approved September 14, 1950 (64 Stat. 849)" You'll find a copy here.

A summary of that Act, found in a park brochure about elk ecology and elk management, states: "The National Park Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department jointly manage the elk population within Grand Teton National Park. In 1950, Public Law 81-787 established the present boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. Congress included a provision to manage the elk population through an annual elk reduction program when necessary. According to this law, hunters selected to participate in the reduction must have legal Wyoming hunting licenses for special areas 75 and 79 and must be deputized as park rangers."

Based on my reading the Act (64 Stat. 849), the above summary is accurate. That requirement that the state and NPS "jointly manage" the elk program creates the potential for real challenges unless the people involved in both agencies exercise considerable wisdom and diplomacy!

One question likely to be rasied by those who oppose the elk reduction program is whether the program is "necessary" each year. That debate is a separate--and complicated--issue.

This Act also included another provision that springs from the long and bitter fight over establishment of the park, and FDR's use of the Antiquities Act in 1943 as part of that process: " That no further extension or establishment of national parks or monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of the Congress." One summary of that fight is found in this NPS document.

The whole issue, in 1950 and today, is also tied up with winter feeding of elk on the Refuge, which allows a larger population to survive the winter than otherwise would not. Back in the day, people were worried about the elk population being extirpated, so the state began to feed the elk.

Of course, before urban development in Jackson, there was more elk winter habitat. Now it's important for tourism. One wouldn't say that elk are endangered or threatened in the West, or in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Another way to control elk is obviously wolves, and we know how political *that* issue is.

Lots of interconnected factors in there.

Thanks, Bob and Jim.

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