Griz shooting sparks hunt protest
After hunters kill bear in Teton park, critics call for changes in elk reduction program.
Grand Teton National Park Ranger Ira Blitzblau chats with a hunter at Teton Point Overlook on Thanksgiving after closing the area behind for an investigation into the shooting of a grizzly bear by other hunters that day. Outfitters later used horses to drag a covered carcass to the Schwabachers Landing parking area. ANGUS M. THUERMER JR. / NEWS&GUIDEView our entire photo gallery >>
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
November 28, 2012
A hunter who was yards away when others killed a grizzly in Grand Teton National Park on Thanksgiving Day described a volley of shots and then shocked men retreating from the woods.
Charles Peet, of Jackson, said Monday that he was hunting “75 to 100 yards” from where 48-year-old David Trembly, of Dubois, and Trembly’s 20- and 17-year-old sons gunned down the adult male bear. Peet, 80, was standing in the clearing east of heavy timber near Schwabachers Landing and was the first person the Tremblys encountered following the incident, he said.
“The father and the two sons walked by me into the woods” on their way to hunt elk, Peet said. “Shortly after that, I heard rapid fire — three to four shots.”
Peet, who didn’t see the encounter, said the sons were clearly in a state of “semi-shock” when they emerged from the woods. The bear was likely feeding on a cow elk carcass that was found nearby, the park said.
Park officials investigating the incident haven’t said whether the three hunters deployed bear spray before the shooting. In a statement, park officials said the bear reportedly charged the hunters, who were licensed to shoot elk as part of the park’s “elk reduction program.”
The first grizzly death tied to Grand Teton National Park’s hunt renewed calls for park officials to shut the Snake River bottomland near Schwabachers to hunting. One critic has started an online petition to end the park hunt, collecting 242 signatures by Tuesday.
Another critic called for Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott to resign, saying he warned her and Wyoming Game and Fish Supervisor Scott Talbott last year that a hunter-killed grizzly could be a violation of the Endangered Species Act, which protects the bear.
“Your legacy as superintendent of GTNP, the only national park in which hunting is allowed, was sealed yesterday, and it is an ugly legacy,” Illinois activist Robert H. Aland wrote Scott in an email he provided to the News&Guide.
Grand Teton and Game and Fish officials have said the hunt is necessary to achieve a balance among elk herd segments wintering on the National Elk Refuge. A park biologist has said it would continue to be necessary as long as elk numbers are sustained by winter feeding on that reserve.
The park hasn’t commented on whether the party of three — the News&Guide learned their identities independently — used bear spray during the encounter. Peet, the hunter who heard the gunfire, said they told him they did.
“The father said he fired two shots of bear spray, one at 20 feet and one at 10 feet,” Peet said. “Then at eight feet the sons fired.”
The incident happened at about 7:30 a.m. David Trembly declined an interview for this story.
His father, Dwayne Trembly, of Cheyenne, confirmed his son was involved. The run-in was “pretty traumatic” for his son and grandsons, he said Friday in a phone interview.
None of the hunters was injured.
Peet encountered a grizzly himself days before.
“I had that 610 bear stand up on me about a week before when I was on the trail,” he said. “She was with the three cubs,” he said, adding that they are big.
“Those cubs aren’t exactly cubs,” Peet said
The encounter took place an hour before light near Triangle X Ranch, he said. That’s about five miles from the Schwabacher incident.
Observers at nearby Teton Point Turnout on Thanksgiving could spy with binoculars four other grizzlies — likely 610 and cubs — within about a mile of the site.
Part of the Schwabacher area was closed for a time starting Oct. 24 after a hunter left an elk carcass on the ground overnight and four grizzlies claimed it. Hunters and photographers at Teton Point on Thanksgiving said elk were regularly shot near Schwabachers and that grizzlies prowled the area as recently as the day before.
Last year, a bear injured an elk hunter near Schwabachers, prompting a closure.
Hunters at Teton Point Overlook on Monday were nearly uniformly wary of hunting in the river bottom.
“I’d be a little leery of hunting the brush down by the river,” said Alan Stenback, a burly Northern California resident who’s hunted in Grand Teton for the past 12 years. “Two days before that grizzly attacked they shot six elk down there.
“That’s why the grizzly was there,” he said. “I knew of seven gut piles down there.”
Grand Teton’s plant biologist, Jason Brengle, went out early Monday so he could hunt elk on his way into work.
“I don’t go down by the river,” he said. “I’d go down in a group, but not by myself.”
Brengle said he doesn’t want the river bottom to close, though, because hunters push elk out of the trees — and into gunfire range.
“I’m looking out for my empty freezer,” he joked.
Lowell Schierkolk, another Grand Teton employee hunting Monday morning, said he felt the Snake bottoms weren’t any more dangerous than the next place.
“It doesn’t matter where you go because you always run the risk of running into bears,” Schierkolk said. “We’re in their backyard.
“It used to be I’d go out by myself,” Schierkolk said,” but I don’t do that anymore because there’s so many more of them.”
Dick Hurlocker, an Oklahoma resident who’s been hunting Grand Teton for 35 years, wasn’t surprised by the Trembly family’s grizzly encounter.
“If you put enough people in an area, the law of averages is going to catch up eventually,” Hurlocker said. “Bears figure out the gunshots are dinner bells.”
Grand Teton ranger Chris Valdez recognized that point while having a discussion with Jackson wildlife photographer and hunt critic Tom Mangelsen on Monday at Teton Point Overlook.
“As you know, we have bears in this ecosystem, and bears follow food,” Valdez said. “Right now the only food source is down there.”
Mangelsen and Jackson real estate agent Tim Mayo again called for the park to end the elk reduction program. They say that the hunt, authorized by Congress, is allowed but not mandatory and that superintendent Scott has the authority to institute closures.
“At this point, the superintendent should unequivocally close the river bottom to the hunt,” Mayo said Friday. “It’s not safe.”
The park closed an area around the incident. Officials are “certainly having internal conversations” about a larger closure area, park spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.
Such a closure wouldn’t be typical, she said. All park hunt areas are slated to close Sunday.
Public support for ending the hunt also has materialized. A Change.org petition started by Jackson resident Aaron Feurstein had garnered 242 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
The wave of publicity shines light on Aland’s earlier request to end the hunt. In July, the Illinois attorney who has litigated for grizzly bear protection in the West, asked Scott and Talbott to cease the hunt immediately. Among his complaints are that the park and Game and Fish violated the law by missing the deadline for approving the annual hunt this year and have not ensured that hunters are properly qualified. The 725 hunters who won licenses through a drawing are deputized as park rangers but have not been proved “qualified and experienced as required by public law,” Aland said in his letter to Scott and Talbott.
Hunters in Grand Teton are required to pass a hunter safety course and carry bear spray.
“The annual [elk reduction program] is an anachronistic relic of a bygone era in Wyoming,” Aland wrote. He also contends the hunt puts the public and wildlife in “serious and present danger” and incurs taxpayers excessive costs.
Mangelsen said Grand Teton should abandon the provision in its 1950 enabling legislation that allows a hunt.
“It’s no longer 1950,” Mangelsen said at Schwabacher Landing on Monday. “There are more people in the park. The time has come.”
“To act like this is somewhat of a surprise is disingenuous,” the photographer said. “To think that you should close a quarter-square-mile chunk and call it good is absolutely irresponsible.”
On Monday, the discarded remnants of shot elk were scattered in surrounding sage nearby. For Mangelsen, standing over two frozen cow elk heads, the scene was a tragedy.
“It’s laziness,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to the animals. This is the crown jewel of the national parks. People don’t come here to see that.”