Grand Teton Ranger Ira Blitzblau talks with a hunter at Teton Point Overlook after other hunters shot a grizzly bear during the annual park elk hunt in 2012. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

A Jackson photographer who has sued to stop the annual elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park has secured a license to shoot an elk starting Oct. 24.

Timothy Mayo said he bought the license to show that officials are not following laws requiring park hunters to be qualified and experienced. A plaintiff in the 2014 suit against the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Service, Mayo said he purchased his license over the counter at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department office in Jackson without demonstrating any marksmanship abilities.

A park spokesman said Monday that Mayo’s possession of a hunter safety card satisfies the legal requirements for qualifications and experience. Mayo disagrees. Officials have no idea whether he could hit the broad side of a barn, he said.

“When I did take the [hunter safety] course they had basically play guns,” Mayo said. Instructors asked rudimentary questions like “Do you know the difference between a turkey and an elk?” he said.

“It’s about as simplistic as can be,” he said. “There is no measurement of marksmanship. You’re never asked to shoot a gun.”

Mayo said he worries that unqualified or inexperienced hunters endanger park visitors, including photographers like him.

“We’re looking down the barrel of greatly increased visitation in the parks,” he said. “This park hunt was established in a different time. Putting so many visitors at risk, as they do for over a month every year — eventually somebody’s going to get tapped.”

Jackson photographer and Realtor Tim Mayo has obtained a license to hunt in Grand Teton National Park in an effort to show that officials never qualified him as an “experienced” hunter as required by law. Mayo has sued the National Park Service claiming the hunt is dangerous to visitors and protected grizzly bears. (David J. Swift)

Grand Teton spokesman Andrew White said that the Park Service expects to issue permits to those who hold Wyoming Game and Fish licenses for the Grand Teton elk hunt. The permits list 13 conditions, including that hunters carry their certified hunter-safety cards.

“Really, that’s where it all lies,” White said. “If they carry that hunter-safety card, they’re saying they’re a qualified and experienced hunter.”

1,000 elk targeted this year

Grand Teton National Park and Wyoming Game and Fish Department are targeting 1,000 elk from Grand Teton and parts of Yellowstone national parks. They propose issuing 650 licenses to hunt inside Grand Teton National Park itself, according to an agreement signed by state and federal officials.

It is unlikely Grand Teton hunters will kill and harvest 650 elk in Grand Teton, however. In 2013 for example, hunters shot and collected only 202 elk in the park during a similar season.

The rest of the 1,000 elk would be killed and harvested on nearby private, state and federal lands, including on the National Elk Refuge. The 2015 hunt is necessary based on elk numbers, herd sex and age ratios, migration patterns and the number of elk being fed at the National Elk Refuge, among other factors. Field biologists say the park hunt serves long-range objectives of restoring historic distributions and migration patterns and encouraging elk to use fall and winter ranges in southern Grand Teton.

The hunt will run through Dec. 13, unless weather makes a longer season necessary. No bull elk are targeted.

Elk that spend summers in southern Grand Teton reproduce at more than twice the rate of the northern migratory segment, biologists say in documents supporting the hunt. So the hunt “focuses more liberal harvest on the southern segments.”

About 8,400 elk ate supplemental winter feed on the nearby National Elk Refuge last winter, far above the objective of 5,000 wintering elk. The Elk Refuge population has been above the goal for six of the past seven winters.

“To reduce NER wintering herd segment toward the goal of 5,000 elk, a harvest of elk that summer in GTNP and hunt area 78, and winter on the NER is desired,” managers said. Area 78 is mostly private land just south of the park, including ranches and rural subdivisions.

Mayo’s lawsuit claims the Grand Teton elk hunt disrupts his photography and endangers visitors and grizzly bears. He recently wrote to Grand Teton Superintendent David Vela protesting the system that he said allows even preteens to take part in the shooting.

“Last August I asked you NOT to deputize me as a Grand Teton National Park ranger-hunter … because I knew that neither you nor the Wyoming Game and Fish Department had vetted me in order to establish that I was a qualified and experienced hunter, as required and defined by the 1950 founding legislation,” Mayo wrote. “Please know that deputizing me and over 600 other individuals without any attempt to establish our qualifications is certain to result in hunting tragedies this fall.”

The hunter safety course involved taking an online test and spending only a half a day at a rifle range with the dummy rifles, he said.

“There’s never a questionnaire — ‘Do you have any experience?’” he said. “There’s no way in that process where they qualify you in any way, shape or form. It’s time for this to change.”

If an elk reduction program is necessary, Mayo said, it should be conducted in a more orderly fashion than is currently the practice. He suggested rangers might guide riflemen and women who have demonstrated sharpshooting abilities.

Many people don’t understand why hunters are allowed to shoot elk in a national park. Congress authorized the hunt when the park boundary was expanded in 1950.

Bad hunting practices as recently as 2012, including shooting into herds of running elk that sometimes results in wounded animals hobbling into the woods, have given the hunt a bad name. Grand Teton has instituted rules to rein in the mayhem.

In 2013 Grand Teton limited hunters to seven non-lead bullets a day. Also, hunters now can only shoot once at a group of running elk.

Nevertheless, a Grand Teton brochure says “hiking is not recommended in areas of the park and [John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway] adjacent to or within hunt areas.”

At least three groups have sued challenging the Grand Teton hunt, officially called an elk-reduction program. Among the lawsuits’ arguments are that the hunt endangers protected grizzly bears. In 2012 Grand Teton hunters shot a grizzly bear, a federally protected species, claiming self-defense.

Read these related stories:
Suit: Grand Teton Park elk hunt risks grizzly bears, April 2015
Photographers sue to stop Grand Teton elk hunt, October 2014

 

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

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 angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Declining hunter ethics have been an issue not just in the Park, but state wide. That certainly needs to be addressed. However, this photographer’s overly dramatic claim that the hunt unjustly impacts his photography and presents a huge public danger seem pretty bogus to me. I have yet to hear of any human casualties in the history of this hunt. If he is so worried about it he can pack up his camera and head somewhere else for a month. I will also say that most hunter safety classes require a live range day and do cover “shoot, don’t shoot” as well as ethics. I am sorry, but there is no way for the Park or G&F to prove a hunter will do the right thing. A hunter safety card does however prove they should at least know safety and ethics. It is up to them to practice it, and Law Enforcement officers are there to punish those who don’t.

    Limiting the number of hunters per day would be a good idea, if they aren’t already doing so. That would likely curb some of the chaos associated with the hunt. I see no reason however to shut down this management hunt entirely. Ironically, the same entitled people who are against this hunt are the reason it exists, as they built their giant houses and ranchettes on what was once elk habitat. Perhaps they should bulldoze their houses and move back to where they came from, for the sake of the elk. So many people from that area of the state are profoundly out of touch with the realities of wildlife ecology and management.

    John Stine

    1. Well said, John. There are a few very vocal, wealthy, and apparently well connected photographers in Jackson that continue getting press coverage for their never-ending fight to stop the herd reduction program in GTNP. Their reasons vary over time based on what they think will get the most traction but the desired result is always the same. Many, if not all of the articles about the herd reduction program are similar to this in that they are one-sided and present only the vocal minorities opinions or efforts to stop the hunt. Rarely do journalists interview any hunters participating in the program instead relying on dry quotes from the park service or game and fish. There is a lot of support for the program (licenses almost always sell out and sometimes quickly), many elk are taken and the meat from those elk fill many freezers. Yes, elk hunters actually do eat the elk they kill. Some even share it with friends and family. Really.

      There are certainly ways the park could handle the hunt better, such as 1/4 mile buffers closed to hunting around ALL roads and increased enforcement to catch the people that are violating the law. Instead, rangers seem to avoid the hunt area as much as possible.

      Lastly, as you point out, a hunters safety course requires classroom time followed by a written exam and a practical. The practical aspect of the exam does vary but will require students to show proficiency and safe handling of various firearms and in many cases actually firing a variety of different firearms. To obtain a drivers license, one must follow a similar procedure. Yet, it would be ridiculous to suggest people must show proficiency beyond holding a valid drivers license in order to drive in GTNP. I realize that park hunters must be “qualified and experienced” while park drivers do not have that requirement. My point is that requiring all hunters to have passed hunters safety should realistically satisfy the requirement, especially given the safety record of the program. Purely from a safety aspect, how many vehicle accidents resulting in injuries occur each year in GTNP? That number is hard to find easily but one bus accident from 2014 resulted in 27 injuries. That is just one accident. How many people have been shot during the herd reduction program? None. Ever. If the photographers’ desire was to purely make the park safer, stopping the herd reduction program would have to be at the bottom of their list.

      Steve McMillan

  2. I am a life long hunter but do not know much about this specific hunt so I will not comment on it. However, any big game hunter that needs to be limited to 7 rounds per day should not be afield at all. That’s more like a 5-7 season supply.

    Anthony Van

  3. Wait a minute … I thought the wolves had killed all the elk. You mean we still have more elk than the winter range and the refuge can carry despite 20 years with wolves roaming the GYC? Someone’s been lying to me.

    More to the point of this story, I know a couple of guys from Casper who often hunt in the park. They’re excellent hunters. Perhaps Game and Fish and the NPS should consider inviting experienced hunters to hunt the park units. They could impose requirements that invitees must have hunted on Wyoming permits for at least five years and must have shown reasonable success in killing an elk without shooting one another or a bear. Game and Fish has the data necessary to do this sorting.

    Dan Neal

  4. The elk reduction is according to an Environmental Impact Statement, NEPA, scoped study, with a 2007 ROD. I calls for 5,000 elk on the refuge only as conditions allow. It requires the Jackson Herd to be maintained at 11,000 elk. It requires WG&F to devise target populations segments for the Grand Teton Herd and to manage the herd to reach and maintain the targets. The segment populations are all well below target. The Grand Teton Park Herd is to be maintained at 1600 elk it is well below 1000. We have lost our Grand Teton Elk herd by shooting them in the park and in their migration corridor of snake river bottom area 78. The Gros Ventre Herd is to be at 3500 elk it is down to less than 1116, elk or less than 1/2 of target other winter range elk to be at 2500 and well below 1250 or less than 1/2 of target. So how can WG&F justify any park hunt? And how can they justify killing 1,000 elk from the Grand Teton Park and area 78 herd when there segments populations are so far off course. They are decimating our elk herd. Stop the park hunt. It does not take an act of Congress for the Park to call time out and maintain and manage our park and its wildlife for a balance and robust ecosystem. In addition the Park Hunt and area 78 violate the ESA listing plan for the Grizzly and NEPA the biological opinon on the Grizzly Bear Impact from the hunt via the BEMP and 2007 ROD. All in all the hunts in the park and neighborhoods are bad wildlife management on the part of all involved. What a shame.

    Deidre Bainbridge

  5. It is way past time for the park to take its head out of the sand and face the reality of this ‘hunt.’ Real hunters don’t ground swat randomly from the side of a road, for heaven’s sake, and the behavior displayed last season is what has people upset. The hunter safety courses are supposed to cover fair chase and conservation as well as the ability to identify an elk vs a turkey, but perhaps it’s up to the instructor to do a good job there. One hopes there are minimum standards for what is covered in those classes and how. Alan Brumstead used to do a great job of it, but who knows now.

    Susan Marsh