A coalition of Jackson Hole women is spearheading an online campaign to gobble up as many grizzly bear hunting tags as possible to keep them out of hunters’ hands.
A new instructive website, Facebook page, Instagram account and GoFundMe page that sprouted this week states a goal to “Shoot ‘em with a camera, not a gun.” The idea is to attract and educate nonhunters and get them to apply for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s planned fall grizzly hunt, and one of the organizers, Jackson resident Ann Smith, says it’s working.
“It’s a full-bore, grassroots effort, and we’re getting the most amazing response,” Smith said.
“We really are astounded at the number of people signing up,” she said. “It’s just thrilling.”
Nonhunters who are applying to a lottery that’s open between now and July 16 are taking advantage of a hunt that’s structured in a way that allows for disruption. In most of Wyoming’s grizzly habitat in the Yellowstone region’s interior, just one hunter will be allowed in the field for 10 days at a time in a season that starts Sept. 15. The restrictive rules are designed to prevent two female bears from being killed, which would exceed a cap imposed upon the Equality State’s wildlife managers.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Large Carnivore Supervisor Dan Thompson couldn’t be reached Tuesday for this story, but he told the News&Guide in June that it’s legal for people to apply for the hunt with no intention of hunting.
“That’s their prerogative,” he said. “Honestly, like I’ve said throughout the course of this, I wish it could be viewed not as sabotaging the hunt but as contributing to grizzly bear conservation and management.”
At the same time, Thompson wasn’t jazzed about the grizzly conservationists’ efforts to secure hunting tags.
“It’s not something we’re condoning, people putting in just so they can take a tag from someone who is interested in the hunting opportunity,” he said. “But it’s going to happen. I know it’s going to happen.”
Locals reached by the News&Guide say it’s happening now.
Judy Hofflund, a seasonal valley resident for the last quarter century, said she put in for a tag partially motivated by viewings of the Grand Teton National Park grizzly that goes by the research number 399. The thought of a grizzly bear like 399 being killed by a hunter, she said, is “devastating.”
“I have already applied,” Hofflund said, “as has everybody in my family and everybody I can get my hands on.”
Last weekend Hofflund hosted a gathering at her house that resulted in the “Shoot’em with a camera” campaign. Jackson Hole attorney Deidre Bainbridge, one of the attendees, described the folks who showed up as a “consortium of women.”
“There are many women, probably 20 to 30, who are involved with this,” she said.
Bainbridge sees her application for a grizzly hunting tag not as an act of sabotage but as a way to take a seat at the wildlife management table.
“This gives me an opportunity to be a consumptive participant with Wyoming Game and Fish,” she said.
If selected, Bainbridge said she’ll “hunt” a grizzly bear over an elk hunter’s discarded gut pile to prove a point. Game and Fish is banning hunting grizzlies over placed bait in its six interior hunting units, though the pursuit will be legal over carcasses naturally on the landscape or hunter-discarded body parts.
“I think the regulation is defective,” Bainbridge said.
Some Jackson Hole men are also taking to the tag-grab tactic, including wildlife photographer and real estate agent Tim Mayo.
“It’s up to each one of us who care about the grizzly bear,” Mayo said, “to do what we can to save as many grizzlies as we can.”
Joe Kondelis, of the hunting-advocacy group Western Bear Foundation, was displeased with the tag-grab movement, knowing it hurts his already slim odds at drawing. But he viewed the tactic as legal, and one that couldn’t be prevented this season.
“It’s unfortunate that that’s happening,” Kondelis said. “They have a right to apply and not use it I guess, but it kind of goes against the idea of management by using hunting as a tool. They’re effectively taking away that tool.”
“But how do we stop them from doing it? There’s nothing built into the system that’s going to prevent them from doing it,” he said.
Application for Game and Fish’s grizzly bear hunting lottery in the state’s six interior hunt areas costs $5 for residents and $15 for nonresidents. If selected for the “issuance list,” the cost to procure a license rises to $600 for residents and $6,000 for nonresidents. Hunters — or nonhunters — must pay the heftier amount up front if they’re vying for a license in the less-restrictive peripheral hunt area 7, where 12 hunters will be allowed in the field at a time.
The GoFundMe portion of the “Shoot ‘em with a camera” was devised to underwrite these costs, Smith said.
“It’s for people who can’t afford the cost, should they be chosen,” Smith said. “We’re vetting those people to make sure they need assistance.”
As of Tuesday night, 72 people had donated $12,700 to the effort, a sum that’s enough to cover 21 grizzly hunting licenses issued to Wyoming residents, or two tags drawn by nonresidents.