Photographer Tom Mangelsen is on the list of grizzly bear hunting license holders, although he would “shoot ’em with a camera” and keep another person out of the field instead of trying to kill a bear. He recently took a grizzly bear ecology course that’s required for prospective hunters. (Sue Cedarholm)

(UPDATE, Aug. 30 — Judge Christensen issued a temporary restraining order for 14 days— see order below — halting the hunt in Wyoming and Idaho until he decides on the next step. Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman Renny MacKay wrote in an email “because of the timing of this we have previously told hunters to expect an update on this matter so we could make sure we can reach all of those with a license.” Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, said her group is “obviously pretty happy. Grizzly bears at least get another 14 days to roam free in their habitat instead of being a trophy on a hunter’s wall.”)

As conservationists await a court date that could stall a proposed Sept. 1 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt, potential shooters last week took a mandatory two-hour grizzly bear ecology class that included instructions on how to make a clean kill.

Judge Dana Christensen is scheduled to hear arguments in six consolidated lawsuits in the federal district court in Missoula, Montana on Thursday. The “comprehensive hearing” could halt Wyoming’s hunt that’s scheduled to begin on Saturday, one of the plaintiffs, Robert Aland, said in an email.

“I understand that a packed courtroom is expected…” wrote Aland, a grizzly activist, attorney and resident of Chicago and Jackson Hole.

As Aland, numerous environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state of Wyoming and hunting groups girded for the hearing, prospective hunters were learning the grizzly bear basics. One of those students was Tom Mangelsen, a renowned Jackson-based wildlife photographer and activist who applied for and won a lottery draw for one of 22 potential licenses.

A former hunter who “got an A+ in marksmanship,” Mangelsen said the course taught about the differences between black and grizzly bears, “also where the vital organs are to make an ethical kill.” He is old enough that he is not required to take a firearms safety course and there’s no certification required to determine if his shooting skills are still up to par. He paid $602 for his chance to hunt a grizzly.

Photographer Tom Mangelsen used a photograph of “rockstar” grizzly 399 and cubs on the cover of a book about Grand Teton National Park bears. (Tom Mangelsen)

Mangelsen has his gear ready — a Nikon D5 camera with an 80-400 zoom lens. He might ready his 600 millimeter lens as well.

Mangelsen plans to “shoot ’em with a camera.” If the hunt begins and the handful of hunters in line before him either kill bears or see their 10-day licenses expire, Mangelsen’s permit would become active. His active license would preclude another hunter from going into the zones where Mangelsen would be allowed to hunt during Mangelsen’s 10-day window.

The two-hour class reinforced his aversion to trophy hunting, Mangelsen said in an interview. Hunters are not required to retrieve and eat the meat of a grizzly bear because Wyoming classifies the species, along with wolves and cougars, as trophy game, not big game.

“In other words, you kill bears or cougars or wolves for fun,” Mangelsen said, and hunters can leave the meat to spoil. “You couldn’t do that with an elk or deer. You’d be fined for wanton waste.”

399 on a spit?

Although hunters would not be required to save the meat of a dead grizzly bear, Mangelsen said the Wyoming Game and Fish Department provided him with links to websites that suggest how to cook a bear (375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes per pound). “I only got a quarter through one of those [webpages],” he said. “I couldn’t imagine 399 on a barbecue.”

Bear 399 is the world-famous grizzly sow that’s birthed 17 cubs, Mangelsen said. She is on the cover of his book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek,” with three cubs. She frequents Grand Teton National Park but wanders beyond its borders, perhaps even beyond a no-hunting buffer zone Wyoming Game and Fish Commission set to help protect what Mangelsen calls “rockstar” grizzlies.

“Shooting sentient animal with emotions and intelligence for fun is barbaric,” Mangelsen said. Others have raised the issue with Wyoming’s chief game warden Brian Nesvik, Nesvik said in an interview.

“I’ve heard from folks that are ethically concerned by that and bothered by that,” Nesvik said of the trophy game designation. The trophy issue is one of ethics and values — public policy but not biology — he said. As such, decisions about a species’ trophy or game status are made by Wyoming lawmakers.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department published this map showing the various hunt areas, including hunt area 7, where up to a dozen grizzlies could be killed. (Wyoming Game and Fish Dept.)

The Boone and Crockett Club — one of the country’s leading hunting organizations and cataloger of extraordinary specimens harvested by hunters — promotes ethical fair chase hunting of free-ranging North American big game. It lists a series of principles for big-game hunting, including “making full use of game animals taken.”

In a statement regarding the removal of the grizzly bear from the federal threatened species list last year, the organization said it would work with other conservation leaders to support “ethical, scientifically regulated hunting,” once bears no longer had federal protection, according to OutDoors Unlimited Magazine.

Cooking grizzlies — or not cooking them — might make for campfire debate, but the issue of trophy game versus big game designations isn’t likely to come before the court on Thursday, said Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“That won’t be capture by the lawsuit,” she said Monday. “The lawsuit only challenges the federal delisting rule. There won’t be really any discussion of trophy hunting.”

Wyoming’s turn to manage grizzlies

Thursday’s hearing consolidates six cases, Santarsiere said, including actions brought by the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and other Indian Tribes that claim the federal government failed to consult with them regarding the delisting. Other involved parties include Santarsiere’s group, the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, the Humane Society of the United States and others. Safari Club International, the National Rifle Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming filed papers to support the federal government in its defense.

The suit centers on three points, starting with the contention that grizzlies are in decline due to climate change and other factors. The Center also argues that the federal government has not considered the impact delisting one portion of the grizzly population — the Yellowstone Ecosystem portion —  will have on other existing or potential grizzly colonies. Finally, a conservation strategy or management plan, the linchpin of the bear’s future, was radically changed without adequate public comment, Santarsiere said.

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Game and Fish’s Nesvik said he believes it is time for Wyoming to finally have authority over grizzlies, 43 years after the federal government stepped in and protected them under the Endangered Species Act.

“As a wildlife manager I feel very, very comfortable that state management is the right thing for this particular species,” he said. “I think we’ve already demonstrated that the state is capable of managing this in a very conservative and very responsible way. By all scientific measure and with a conservative population measure, grizzlies are doing quite well in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

Nevertheless, all eyes are on Missoula. “We’ve talked to a lot of hunters about the hearing this week,” he said. “There’s certainly trepidation.”

But also among prospective hunters “there’s certainly a lot of excitement,” he said. “They have been extremely engaged with the department, trying to learn about grizzly bear biology and distribution, abundance, those kinds of things. We’ve had a good experience with the hunters on the [license] list.

“Just the fact we’re at this point we’re having this discussion … it still does mark a pretty cool conservation success story,” Nesvik said. “The species is doing quite well.”

Wyoming seeks to help maintain a population of 674 grizzlies in the Demographic Monitoring Area, a 19,270-square-mile census area surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. In 2017, bear managers estimated 718 grizzlies in the DMA. Wyoming’s proposed season could see as many as a dozen bears shot dead outside the DMA — where grizzlies are not counted toward the population goal — and another 10 inside the census area.

Bears could be shot inside the primary conservation area

Wyoming’s hunt, should it take place, begins Sept. 1 in hunt area 7, fringe country around the demographic monitoring area where Wyoming believes bears are socially unacceptable and where their presence should be discouraged. Hunting inside the DMA, the area where the critical annual census takes place to ensure the population endures, would begin in the middle of September.

Grizzly bear recovery zones around Yellowstone National Park include the Primary Conservation Area, center, where outgoing park superintendent Dan Wenk believes the bears shouldn’t be hunted. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

A smaller area inside the DMA is called the Primary Conservation Area or the Recovery Zone. It includes all of Yellowstone National Park, the northern part of Grand Teton National Park and surrounding land that’s mostly national forest. The primary conservation area covers about 9,208 square miles and hunting would be allowed there, except in the parks, in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and in the buffer zone outside Grand Teton.

Dan Wenk, the outgoing superintendent of Yellowstone National Park who has sought to protect Yellowstone grizzlies for the benefit of tourists among other reasons, disagrees with that strategy. He believes grizzly bears should not be hunted in the primary conservation area, he said in a telephone press conference early this month. Photographer Mangelsen would rather no hunting be allowed anywhere.

He said his hunter orientation provided a lot of information, perhaps too much for a person to absorb. He’s doubtful hunters will be able to distinguish between sexes beyond 25 yards or so. He doesn’t think some legal weapons — pistols and bows, for example — are appropriate. “All those weapons except a high-powered rifle are really inadequate to efficiently and ethically kill a bear quickly,” he said.

Grizzly hunters may stake out the gut pile of a legally killed elk, Mangelsen said, because grizzlies have learned to search for such leftovers. “It’s the same as baiting,” which is generally illegal, he said. “It’s no sport in my opinion.”

The larger scale hunting of female grizzlies outside the DMA — up to a dozen could be killed — would harm the ecosystem population, Mangelsen said. “We’re going backwards,” he said of the Wyoming hunting plan.

Nesvik isn’t swayed. He was recently in the backcountry where “there was plenty of opportunity to see grizzly bears,” he said. “That’s always a great experience, always has been since I was a kid.”

Asked whether he thought hunting would diminish that opportunity, he said “absolutely not.”

Santarsiere is helping organize a rally at the courthouse for the morning of the hearing. “August 30 is going to be a monumental day for the Yellowstone grizzly bear,” she said, “one way or another.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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  1. Update 5:40 pm Thursday Aug.30
    Judge Christensen ruled there will be no Grizzly bear hunting for at least two weeks ( via TRO).
    Oh by the way… the attorney for Wyoming made a ridiculous Hail Mary legal offer during the proceeding. Assistant Attorney general Erik Petersen asked Judge Dana Christensen if the entire delisting rule was sent back to the federal government for ” repairs” , could Wyoming still go ahead and start hunting them anyway ? ” He really did ask that…

    The Judge was also rightfully concerned about ” remnant populations” of grizzly bears in places like central Idaho and the North Cascades which seemed to be ignored by US Fish and Wildlife when it oversaw grizzly recovery around Yellowstone , and only took long sideways glances at bears further north up the Continental Divide toward Glacier Park and the Cabinet-Yaak areas.

    Doesn’t look good for Wyoming having its way.

  2. This seems to be a bizzaro “Jurassic Park” wildlife management meme run by photographers journalists, and enviro non profits for their own benefit and future book sales. I don’t think Wy. Fish and Game is trying to exterminate grizzlies and won’t adapt in the future. The Environgelics and the Evangelics have a lot in common. They believe the best, and their science is the best, especially for their own bottom line, Good Ole Boomers

  3. There is precise one – and only one – justification for citizens being able to shoot some small number of Yellowstone grizzlies. And it has absolutely nothing to do with wildlife conservation , ecology , or conflict management. That reason is Male Hominid EGO. Humans just gotta kill big scary animals to feel whole. That’s it. The entirety of justification for a Wyoming griz hunt.

    The scheduled hunts are nothing more than management of appearances and ego gratification. The hunts will not alter the bear population dynamic in and of themselves, because like any other recent year Wyoming G&F and their federal overlords will somehow manage to remove 35-60 grizz from the ecosystem anyway , for a wide range of reasons including traffic kills, hunter kills, poaching , judge-jury-execution livestock reparation , and maybe even some fluke moratlities.

    Truth be told, NOBODY knows how many grizzly live in the core Yellowstone ecosystem . It’s all presumptuous ; conjecture ; anecdotal gone amok ; or skewed science ( lots of THAT one). There might be over a thousand grizzly in the GYE , but there’s more likely 300 to 500. The working number of 700 is high , IMO. But the catch is Numbers Do Not Matter. it’s the habitat and overall health of the population that matter , not an accurate census.

    Only when bears have established themselves in other habitats in other regions a good distance away from Yellowstone , and are inf act in number shigh enough that interconnectivity between the Canadian border all the way down the Continental divide to the Upper Green River basin, with robust population in the core of Idaho wilderness numbering in the ‘ many dozens ‘ should we think about a regionwide grizzly bear hunt plan irrespective of state management.

    The bottom line is the various state wildlife agencies are the LAST , not the first agencies, that should be managing a restored delisted recovering grizzly bear across at least four States and the Provinces immediately north.

    We are a long ways from that . Like any other species that knows nothing of state boundaries or is migratory , the States should not be given authority to manage. The grizzly is America’s Great Bear , not Wyoming’s. It should retain federal oversight under all forseeable circumstances for that reason.

    Yes , we can afford to trophy kill a half dozen bears within the confines of Wyoming. Let it be known it is only political camouflage disguised as Bear Management and specie sustainability with a dash of States’ Rights. It will be done to give the blood sport crowd their 500 pounds of flesh for the purposes of quieting their high decibel atonal ovations. In other words, shut them up.

    At the end of this 40 year saga to restore the Yellowstone grizzly , the best available science used to justify where we are at going forward was not Biology . It was Political Science. Ego , not Ecology. Keep that in mind.

    Happy cam-hunting, Tom!

  4. I am sure hoping that decisions are made based on science, not emotion. The carrying capacity of the Parks and National Forests has been reached. The bears aren’t coming down into the Big Horn Basin because they’ve developed a taste for Pronghorns.
    Older boar grizzlies routinely try to kill cubs to bring the sow back into estrus. Eliminating some of the boars will improve cub survivability.