GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. – A controversial hunt for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area is about to open, targeting animals that were on the Endangered Species List just a year ago.
The hunt, sanctioned by the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, will allow up to 22 grizzly bears to be killed by permitted hunters.
“I want to hunt grizzly because they’re a species that hunters have poured millions into their recovery,” said Taylor Engum, owner of East Fork Outfitters. “We need to harvest bears in order to manage their population in accordance to what Game & Fish believes.”
Game officials believe there are roughly 700 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem — up from about 100 known bears in the 70s. The hunt is divided into two sections; its limited to 10 males or 1 female in the region closest to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, but in a second zone 12 bears of any sex can be killed so long and they are not with dependent cubs.
“This country is full. There is nowhere else for these bears to go,” said Engum.
So far, only four outfitters have registered to hunt grizzlies with the state. The permits cost $600 for Wyoming residents and $6,000 for out of state permits.
The hunt also involves a controversial practice alarming environmental activists. Guides can combine their permits with their active elk hunting permits, which could up their odds of actually finding a bear. Baiting a bear is outlawed, but hunters are allowed to stake out the remains of a elk kill and wait for a grizzly to approach. Opponents say if that’s not baiting, it’s not far from it.
“I’m afraid the bears are going to get slaughtered,” said Tom Mangelsen, one of the world’s most famous nature photographers. “I asked Game & Fish ‘Why you have this?’ and they said ‘For recreation, we are mandated by our constituents to provide hunting opportunity.’”
Mangelsen has taken some of the most iconic photos of grizzly bears and intimately documented the recovery of bears in the Teton/Yellowstone area. He’s part of a campaign to protect the bears and even won one of the permits to hunt. He says he’ll use the 10 days he has on the permit as a filibuster to take pictures and hopefully save at least one bear.
“Maybe it’s justice for the bears that I got a permit,” Mangelsen said.
Mangelsen accuses Wyoming officials of having an itchy trigger finger. Five years ago, game managers said when the population of grizzlies approached 1,000 it would be safe to hunt. But the bears have struggled to get over the 700 mark.
Nearly 60 bears are killed every year on the roads or in conflicts with ranches and livestock. The effects of climate change on the bear’s natural food sources are also seen as factors keeping the population from growing.
Neighboring states have sharply different views on the grizzly hunt too. Idaho will allow one grizzly to be killed this year. Montana won’t allow a hunt at all. In British Columbia, home of one of the most robust grizzly bear populations on the planet, grizzly hunting has been outlawed and condemned as barbaric.
“The only thing I can figure out is this is a very backward state,” said Mangelsen.
On Thursday, a federal court in Missoula, Montana will hear arguments brought by a half dozen environmental groups suing the federal government’s removing grizzlies from the endangered species list. A judge’s ruling could stop the hunt scheduled to begin on Saturday.
Mangelsen says Wyoming is pushing forward with the hunt unprepared simply out of a desire to kill the apex predator for trophies.
“We took the bald eagle off the endangered species list. We still don’t hunt them.”
CBS4 – Denver