Elk Reduction Comes To Grand Teton National Park

The elk population in Grand Teton National Park will experience its seasonal reduction as hunters take to the park this month. NPS Photo.

If you're heading to Grand Teton National Park this fall, don't be surprised to hear occasional gunshots, as the park's annual elk reduction hunt runs from Thursday into early December.

While most national parks ban hunting, the Grand Teton elk hunt was mandated by Congress as a means of regulating the size of the Jackson elk population. The hunt dates to 1950, when provisions were made for the expansion of Grand Teton National Park.

The size of the reduction is developed in conjunction with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and approved by Wyoming's governor and the Interior Department secretary. Biologists and administrators from both agencies have reviewed available biological data and concluded that the 2012 program is necessary to keep the Jackson elk herd at or near the objective of 1,600 elk.

The need for the park’s elk reduction program stems partly from annual winter feeding programs on the National Elk Refuge just to the southeast of the park and in the upper Gros Ventre drainage. These feed grounds are maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and are also mandated by legislation.

“Feeding sustains high numbers of elk with unnaturally low mortality rates. A majority of elk that are fed during the winter on the fefuge also summer in, or use migration routes through, Grand Teton National Park," said Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs in a press release. "Consequently, the reduction program targets elk from three primary herd segments: Grand Teton, southern Yellowstone National Park, and the Teton Wilderness area of Bridger-Teton National Forest.”

The elk reduction program utilizes Wyoming-licensed hunters who apply for and receive a limited quota permit to hunt in designated areas. Over the years the number of permits issued has been drastically reduced. From 1990 to 2005, an average of 2,500 permits were given out, a portion of which were “either-sex” tags that allowed the shooting of bulls. In 2011, 750 permits were issued and 278 elk were taken. This year the park is only issuing 725 permits and completely eliminating the shooting of bulls.

The use of archery, handguns, or other non-center fire ammunition rifles is banned, as is the use of artificial elk calls. Hunters, regardless of age, also are required to carry a hunter education card. They also must carry readily accessible bear spray as a non-lethal deterrent during potential bear encounters. An information packet warning hunters of the risk of bear encounters and offering tips on how to minimize the probability of human-bear conflicts accompanies each permit.

Hunters are also encouraged to use non-lead ammunition to support practices that will benefit the long-term conservation of all wildlife. In the past three years, park managers have seen a decrease in the use of lead ammunition.

Each hunter is only permitted to take one elk. Occasionally, when an elk is confiscated because of a violation of the hunting regulations, park rangers give the meat to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which in turn gives it to needy families.

Park officials recommend that visitors recreate in areas west of the Snake River that are closed to hunting, and advise visitors to wear hunter orange or other bright colors whenever they enter open hunting zones away from park developed areas. A map is available online that shows where hunting is permitted.

Back in June the Sierra Club urged the park to reassess the culling operation, but a response by Grand Teton Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott closed the door on that option, saying that issues raised by the group had already been addressed.

An article and audio report by Casper’s K2 radio station delves a little deeper into the elk hunt’s impact on grizzly bears, which includes their becoming habituated to eating the remains of elk left by hunters in the backcountry (another potential issue that the superintendent indicated had been adequately considered).

Comments

There are so many folks who would love to raise elk -- too bad there is not someway for interested ranchers/farmowners to be able to pick them up at no charge rather than have them shot. All we hear is how man is no better than the animals -- can't wait until they decide to cull the old folks -- on no -- wait -- that's already in place in Obamacare!

can't wait until they decide to cull the old folks -- on no -- wait -- that's already in place in Obamacare!

Oh, good grief!

If it was not for the feeding program, large numbers of elk would die of starvation and the illnesses related to it. The anti-reduction advocates have never seen large numbers of starving animals to realize that nature will reduce the herd, one way or another. It is much better to utilize the meat and more humane than letting the animals starve to death with only vultures and maggots getting the benefit. A good control program. Let the biologist do their job. The advocates would be argueing to use science in making decisions. This is science, just not to their liking.

I'm with Lee. I am surprised this complete nonsequitor of a comment passed muster for posting. It's a blatant violation of the rules—"Traveler is not a catchall for viewpoints and discussions that fall outside of the parks or the post at hand. In monitoring comments, we try to restrict those to the topic at hand." Obama's healthcare plan is not only NOT germaine to the topic at hand, it is irrelevant to this issue. Beyond that, if political inclinations hold, the poster's lead-in tries to sound exactly the opposite of his punch line—thus it's pretty obvious there's deceit involved too. Indeed—"good grief."

Grand Teton National Park is knowingly failing to comply with federal law which requires Park hunters to be “qualified and experience hunters” (see portion of legislation below) putting park visitors at extreme and unreasonable risk.

…After the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the National Park Service shall have recommended to the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of Wyoming in any specified year a plan, which has received the joint approval of the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of Wyoming, calling for the controlled and managed reduction by the method prescribed herein of the number of elk within the Grand Teton National Park established by this Act, and after the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission shall have transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior a list of persons who have elk hunting licenses issued by the State of Wyoming and who are qualified and experienced hunters, on or before July 1 of that year the Secretary of the Interior, without charge, shall cause to be issued orders deputizing the persons whose names appear on such list, in the number specified by the plan, as rangers for the purpose of entering the park and assisting in the controlled reduction plan. Each such qualified hunter, deputized as a ranger, participating in the controlled reduction plan shall be permitted to remove from the park the carcass of the elk he has killed as a part of the plan. (16 U.S.C. § 673c.)

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Scott and National Park Service Regional Director Wessels both received the following: I was able to secure a 2012 Area 75 elk license, a Wyoming Hunter Education Certification and become a Grand Teton National Park deputized without any QUALIFICATION, without any hunting EXPERIENCE, without ever FIRING A GUN and without ever providing IDENTIFICATION. It will be undisputed negligence on your part in the event a visitor is killed or injured due to circumstances caused by your failure to insure that your deputized rangers are “qualified and experienced hunters.”

Superintendent Scott and Regional Director Wessels are playing Russian roulette with Park visitors lives.

So who gave you the hunter education cert? Did you report them to the authorities? Why did you fraudulantly obtain one? Your story won't hold water until I see a story in the paper talking about a prosecution.

Open Letter to Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Scott:

As you are aware the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is in the midst of a severe drought which has resulted in desperate shortages of wildlife food supplies. Grasses that did grow are now dry straw, bushes such as bitter brush are stunted and the annual supply of fall berries simply did not show up. All species of wildlife are scrambling to put on weight for the winter months with minimal food sources available.

Grand Teton National Park’s elk hunt will start at dawn this Saturday resulting in elk gut piles littering the Antelope Flats area and the Snake River bottom stretching from Jackson Dam to Moose. Last year grizzly bears and black bears flocked to the elk gut piles creating a dangerous circumstance which resulted in a hunter being mauled. Bears this year are desperate and will be much more aggressive in their pursuit of food.

This past summer and last year you closed multiple park areas with just the hint of bear activity excepting the park hunt areas which are unquestionably the most dangerous combination of grizzly bears, black bears, elk gut piles, unsuspecting visitors and deputized rangers we now know are not vetted to be “qualified and experienced hunters.” Last fall you were repeatedly made aware of dangerous bear activity in the elk hunt areas but you refused to close those areas putting the bears, the hunters and park visitors at extreme risk.

This is an exceptional year because of the drought and the dangers of mixing bears, hunters, visitors and elk gut piles will be magnified. Please exercise common sense and do your job protecting park visitors and our wildlife. Don’t let the arrogance you demonstrated last fall result in another mauling or death.

Dear Anonymous:

I obtained my Wyoming Hunter Education Certificate by participating in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's online education and attendance in Wyoming Game and Fish Department's class room instruction passing all tests with 100% scores.

If your litmus test for truth is a published story in the newspaper not sure we could have a reasonable dialog.

By the way "fraudulantly" is spelled fraudulently.

Timothy,

16 USC Sec.673c. may say that the hunters must be "qualified and experienced". It however does not define either term. Your assertion appears to be that having obtained a hunter safety certificate and a valid hunting license don't meet this requirement. What would you suggest as objective criteria for making a determination of qualified and experienced?

You also seem to have issues with the by-products of successful hunt on NPS lands, gut piles and their tendency to attract bears and other critters. Successful hunts on all public lands surrounding Jackson have the same results and present the same hazards. Do you also have issues with these or is it just those on NPS lands?

NPS management has taken, what I think are appropriate, steps to mitigate the potential for visitor safety issues related to the hunt by recommending that visitors avoid the hunt areas. They even provide maps of the hunting areas and advise the non-hunting public what the issues may be. As Lee said earlier to another comment "good grief"

So Tim, you first said you got the cert with no qualification. Now you say you took online in and in class instruction passing all test with 100%. That sounds like qualification to me.

Tell me, if you have never shot a gun, why did you go through this process?

Tim-- If you passed all the required tests with 100% scores I'd say you are qualified to participate as a qualified participant??? Maybe you are just anti-hunting??? Oh--please feel free to correct any of my spelling mistakes-- thank you.

Dear Old Ranger, Anonymous and Dick G.:

Re: "16 USC Sec.673c. may say that the hunters must be "qualified and experienced". It however does not define either term." ...you must have been a spokesperson for the National Park Service....

Re: "...why did you go through this process?" ...to prove what I have witnessed for decades...the hunters deputized as rangers are not vetted (which is a requirement of the legislation) and they prove to be careless, dangerous and should not be allowed to run amok in Grand Teton National Park destroying natural resource and endangering visitors & wildlife.

Re: "I'd say you are qualified to participate as a qualified participant???" ...you have proven my point...thanks for your qualification...as meaningful as the certificate, license and deputization I currently hold...

I would say that we should re-visit this in December when all of the negative ramifications

This comment has been lightly edited to remove a gratuitous remark. -- Ed.

The permit was not obtained fraudulently. Every rule for application was followed - it was the park service that did not bother to check i.d. or require that applicants proved they knew their way around a gun.

The fact that someone can pass a hunting test on paper, even at 100%, has no bearing whatsoever of their abilities in the field, where safety becomes a little more of an issue than it is in the classroom.

So for the "years you have witnessed", how many park goers were injured by an inexperienced hunter during the elk hunt in the Tetons?

Timothy,

You responded but you did not answer any of the questions I asked.

1. What objective criteria would you suggest for determing hunters as qualified and experienced?

2. Do you also have issues with the hunts that occur on other public lands that surround Jackson. Those hunts have even less criteria for the hunters, yet have the same "safety" issues you speak of. Is your concern only with those hunts on NPS lands?

It is very easy to be critical, the hard part is to offer realistic suggestions for improvement. I guess I'm challenging you to be part of the solution you seem to be seeking. In my experience, individuals that are unable to offer realistic solutions along with their criticism, after a time, tend to be ignored and their complaints are treated merely as irritating background noise, like the sound of mosquitos buzzing around your ears. I'm also wondering if I'm even giving you too much credit by assuming that you are seeking improvement. Bluntly, I'm wondering what your real agenda is.

Given that the NPS requires hunters to carry bear spray, the NPS should be required to show hunters--in a brochure or online video--how to use bear spray while carrying a rifle. Some field carries for rifles require two hands. Would Grand Teton officials suggest that hunter let go of their rifle with one hand so they could attempt to deploy bear spray one-handed? Some field carries for rifles are typically done with your strong hand (right or left), so a hunter would have to try to use bear spray with his off hand. If the issue is hunter safety, Grand Teton should train hunters how to use their rifle quickly and effectively.


Dear Old Ranger:

Re: What objective criteria would you suggest for determing hunters as qualified and experienced? ...identification of applicant might be a good start? ...marksmanship? ...knowledge of the species and it's behavior? ...hunting skills such as track identification, estimating distances, map reading abilities, carcass care, etc? ...documented history of safe hunting and hunting success? ...investigation to determine if the applicant has had any prior game violations?

Re: Do you also have issues with the hunts that occur on other public lands that surround Jackson. Those hunts have even less criteria for the hunters, yet have the same "safety" issues you speak of. Is your concern only with those hunts on NPS lands? ...the National Park Service are and have been actively committing fraud by deputizing hunters as National Park Service Rangers in efforts to circumvent the 1942 International Treaty for Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere signed by North and South American countries which banned hunting in National Parks...(you might want to read this Treaty)... ...the safety issues are not the same...other public lands do not have the concentration of game, unsuspecting visitors, density of highways and roads and density of hunters... ...Grand Teton National Park continues to hide behind the 1950 Legislation but they only puff those portions they are in compliance with and omit what they are not in compliance with...some how I believe they should fully comply with the law...

Re: It is very easy to be critical, the hard part is to offer realistic suggestions for improvement. I guess I'm challenging you to be part of the solution you seem to be seeking. In my experience, individuals that are unable to offer realistic solutions along with their criticism, after a time, tend to be ignored and their complaints are treated merely as irritating background noise, like the sound of mosquitos buzzing around your ears. I'm also wondering if I'm even giving you too much credit by assuming that you are seeking improvement. Bluntly, I'm wondering what your real agenda is. ...suggestions have been submitted for years...for decades bull elk were harvested which was scientific fraud if the intent of the hunt was to cull-because of our "suggestions" no bull permits are issued...the hunt in area 79 Spread Creek to Lizard Creek has been one of the most dangerous areas because of the terrain and visitor concentration-that area will not be hunted next year because of our "suggestions"...last year was the first time that the park made any effort to provide notice and warning to unsuspecting visitors of the hunt by placing sandwich warning signs in highway pulls-again this is due to our "suggestions"...the park uses the elk refuge feeding as their excuse to continue the hunt and the "suggestion" has been made repeatedly that the refuge should issue the 750 permits for the refuge grounds which do not allow public access and the hunt is truly regulated and controlled because of access...abandoning the park hunt would allow elk to naturally migrate to the refuge, consuming available grasses along the way, delaying the early hunt-forced arrival of elk on the refuge and would change the current forced migration pattern of driving elk into developed areas on the park's southern border...

Timothy,

Ok, that's better.

I sounds to me that your real issue is that the hunt takes place at all. However, once Congress establishes a law, which they did by requiring the NPS at Grand Teton National Park to conduct this hunt, the NPS is required to comply with that law. To get the hunt to end or be done in another jurisdiction (FWS) would require additional Congressional action. Which would probably be followed by years of legal wrangling in court to determine which should prevail. It sounds to me that you are barking up the wrong tree by asking the park to abandon the hunt.

Just FYI, Congress has written hunting into the enabling legislation of many NPS units, it is not just Grand Teton where hunting is allowed.

As to your objective criteria, what is acceptable marksmanship? And who determines it? What is acceptable knowledge of the spcies and it's behavior and how is that determined? What is acceptable map reading? Acceptable carcass care? Track identification?

I really like the documented history of safe hunting and hunting success... Cool, I'll have all my drinking buddies vouch for me....:-) (attempt at humor)

What you are asking for is basically a very costly, unrealisticly expensive program to impliment in this period of flat (or maybe even shrinking NPS budgets). What I see is that you feel that without this program the hunt should not continue and you would get your wish. So back to you really don't want this hunt to happen at all.