New rules irk hunters
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
March 22, 2013
Jackson Hole hunters and outfitters this week criticized changes Grand Teton National Park has planned for its elk hunt.
A meeting Wednesday to set hunting seasons in the region was the first opportunity for the public to comment on state and federal officials’ proposal to alter the park hunt, called a “reduction program.” Among other changes suggested for the 2013 hunt, officials would close off a popular stretch of the Snake River bottomlands, restrict hunters to carrying seven non-lead bullets and prohibit them from firing more than one shot at herds of running elk.
Several of the 30-some attendees at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Jackson meeting panned the proposed new rules.
Sam Coutts described the suggested changes as “jerking the guts out of this hunt ... for a few bears that could be moved.”
Closing areas along the banks of the Snake River, he said, will eliminate the opportunity for elderly and physically unfit hunters to bag an elk.
“Is it a controversial hunt? Yes,” Coutts said. “But there are a lot of people it means a lot to.”
B.J. Hill, owner of Swift Creek Outfitters, was more understanding of the park’s proposed changes.
“If this is what the park and Wyoming Game and Fish recommends, then I guess that’s where it has to go,” Hill said in a phone interview.
“I’m an outfitter, but I am not a professional land agency person, and I should stay out of it because I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” Hill said. “Tim Mayo’s a real estate agent and he needs to keep his nose out of Wyoming Game and Fish and Grand Teton National Park’s business. What does he really know about how this really works?”
Mayo, who declined to respond to Hill’s comment, and Jackson wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen have been longtime vocal critics of the park’s elk reduction program.
As part of legislation that established the park in 1950, Grand Teton is authorized, when necessary, to host a hunt in which civilians are deputized to shoot elk.
Grand Teton rolled out a new set of more restrictive hunting season regulations last week, partially in response to hunter conflicts with grizzly bears. A male grizzly was shot and killed by hunters this past Thanksgiving near Schwabacher Landing. The year before, in the same area, a Jackson man was mauled while elk hunting.
The Snake River closure is “primarily directed at conflicts with other wildlife species,” Game and Fish biologist Doug Brimeyer said at the meeting. “There’s other park values that are at stake with this type of hunt.”
Brimeyer didn’t discount all of Coutts’ assertions.
“Sam and the other guys raise a good point in that we are losing some of the potential to harvest some of those elk,” Brimeyer said in an interview.
The Jackson elk herd is near its herd-wide population objective of 11,000, Bri-meyer said, but herd segments that summer in Grand Teton and south of the park are over optimal number limits and reproducing at very high rates.
Grand Teton wildlife biologist Steve Cain said that a “pretty reasonable harvest” typically occurs in the proposed closure area — generally 10 to 30 percent of the total harvest over the past eight years.
“None of these decisions were arrived at lightly,” Cain said. “Foremost affecting the decision to close the river bottom were the two grizzly bear encounters.”
To make up for lost hunting acreage, officials will allow hunting south of the Gros Ventre Road, beginning a half mile west of the campground.
Mangelsen said he foresees grizzly-hunter conflicts shifting from the Snake to the Gros Ventre river bottoms.
“You’re going to have the same situation,” the photographer said. “It’s still forested.
“All you’re doing is pushing the bears closer to the refuge and closer to town,” Mangelsen said. “You’re just substituting one area for the other. The bears are going to go where the food is.”