Sportsmen advocates and others are challenging Grand Teton National Park to change its regulations after a coordinated elk drive last week led to a roadside firing line in plain sight.

The Nov. 19 incident, which resulted in six citations, was preventable and was the product of novice hunters who have few places to go far from roads, said Bob Wharff, executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

“I don’t like to say that we need to hide it from the public,” Wharff said of the park’s hunt. “But the reality is we do need to be sensitive to the fact that some people come to the park not knowing there’s a hunt.”

A guide before turning professional advocate, Wharff urged park managers to start screening hunters for proficiency, consider allowing volunteer guides and do away with some of their “funky” rules.

“They’ve taken what is more of a bureaucratic approach,” he said. “You can have seven bullets, and you can only take one shot at a running elk.

“To me, I never shoot at running elk unless I have one that’s been hit,” Wharff said. “That’s the thing that bothers me. They’re thinking like bureaucrats rather than thinking about the application and what they’re trying to do.”

The elk drive and barrage of bullets near Kelly last week drew flak from many, both online and in the streets. Wharff fears the incident gave hunting a black eye.

In the end two spike bulls were illegally killed. One hunter was cited for shooting a spike and for firing more than once at a running herd, and four others were ticketed for shooting from a roadway.

No hunters were cited for driving about 100 elk out of a closed area, which photographer Tom Mangelsen said he witnessed. Investigating rangers could not substantiate that incident, park officials said.

Grand Teton officials said Tuesday that the Nov. 19 herd shooting incident was not an indication of typical hunter behavior in the park.

“This year I think we’ve had 129 harvested elk inside the national park, and the vast majority [of hunters] did it as we would expect based on the conditions of the permit,” Chief Ranger Michael Nash said.

The park’s hunt, called a “reduction program,” was mandated by 1950 legislation that created Grand Teton National Park.

Hunting, the legislation says, shall be permitted when “it is found necessary for the purpose of proper management and protection of the elk.”

The activity, a unique one for a national park, is reviewed each year and jointly administered and managed by the National Park Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

In recent years the park hunt has been scaled back significantly, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

From 3,000 permits to 650

“As recently as the mid-1990s there were as many as 3,000 permits that were authorized,” Skaggs said Tuesday. “The last few years we’ve whittled that down to 650 authorized permits.”

A bull elk hunt was also phased out in recent years.

Park hunters are subject to more-stringent regulations than elsewhere in the Equality State. They must carry bear spray and use nonlead ammunition, and they are restricted to carrying seven rounds.

“This is one of the most highly managed hunts that you’ll find in the state of Wyoming,” Skaggs said.

A group of Jackson Hole wildlife photographers in the valley think that the changes haven’t gone far enough.

In late October residents Tim Mayo and Kent Nelson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that seeks to stop not only Teton park’s hunt but also the practice of feeding elk on public land in Northwest Wyoming.

The claim targets at the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Department. It argues that the park hunt violates Grand Teton’s enabling legislation, the Park Service’s foundational 1916 Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The park’s hunt would be better off, Wharff said, if there were expanding opportunities in the backcountry, away from roads.

“I think the fact that they have limited access ... it means that you can’t get away from the public eye too well, which means you have to do those things in full view of people,” he said.

Not everyone uses roads

Using roads, Nash said, is part of a mixed bag of techniques used by the park’s hunters.

“I think we see a myriad of participants in the Elk Reduction Program, and not everybody uses roads specifically,” he said.

Blacktail Butte and the park’s east boundary, Nash said, are two places hunters regularly go that are off the beaten path.

Early in his career as a guide, Wharff said, he was in charge of a private ranch’s late-season cow-calf hunt — similar to Grand Teton National Park’s elk reduction program. Problems with inexperienced clientele were rampant, things got “ugly” and too often elk were showing up later in winter with “legs shot off.”

Wharff said he fixed the problem by screening his clients.

“I implemented a qualification process,” he said. “I required all my hunters to go down to the rifle range, and they had to demonstrate some level of proficiency.

“I ended up getting [those problems] to where they went away,” Wharff said.

Mangelsen called a screening process a good idea but said it wouldn’t go far enough.

“The park is not a place to have a hunt, period,” the photographer said. “It’s not 1950 anymore. There are lot more tourists than in the ’50s — it’s almost 70 years later.

“They should do away with the whole thing,” he said.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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(4) comments

Aland Robert

The 1950 legislation prescribes clear deadlines that must be met by the responsible federal and state wildlife officials in the process of authorizing each year's "elk reduction program" or "ERP," but they have consistently ignored those deadlines,

The 1950 legislation, after stating that the purpose of the ERP is to "insure the permanent conservation of the elk," authorizes the annual ERP only "when it is found necessary for the purpose of proper management and protection of the elk." The responsible federal and state wildlife officials have ignored the legislation's purpose; authorized the annual ERPs in a virtually automatic manner without the required analysis; and failed to make their findings available to the public presumably in their continuing efforts to minimize general public awareness and scrutiny of this annual atrocity. Result: Insure the permanent conservation of the elk by killing them.

The 1950 legislation requires the ERP to be carried out by "qualified and experienced hunters" who hold Wyoming elk hunting licenses and, for purposes of the ERP, become "deputized" park rangers. The federal and state wildlife officials ignore the statutory requirement to train the hunters so that they are "qualified and experienced." Results: The numerous unethical and dangerous practices that have taken place this year and other years; the killing of a grizzly bear protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in the Park on Thanksgiving Day 2012; the abandonment of unwanted elk parts in the Park.

The only answer, as stated by Tom Mangelsen, is to stop this cruel and dangerous relic of a bygone era.

Ed Fuhr

The 1950 legislation most assuredly does NOT mandate any hunting. At most, it proves that a hunt can be authorized but only after certain findings have been made. Without such findings, there can be no hunt. While I think the legislation should be amended, it is even more clear that the findings giving rise to these hunts is an abuse of discretion. The fact that the hunt has been reduced to taking barely over 100 elk demonstrates itself that it is not "necessary" for proper management and protection of the elk.

Patti Celovsky

A mere few slaps on the writst will discourage no one - the tepid response from the park service and WGFD are as egregious as the unethical & slovenly 'hunters'.

And while I'm glad to see hunters speaking out, simply hiding it from the public & calling for doesn't constitute meaningful resolutions & it certainly doesn't call for more hunting opportunities.

"The park’s hunt would be better off, Wharff said, if there were expanding opportunities in the backcountry, away from roads..........“I think the fact that they have limited access ... it means that you can’t get away from the public eye too well, which means you have to do those things in full view of people,” he said.

"...these weren't novice hunters"....ha!

Bob Scholl

Why are the elk hanging out for the winter in Jackson Hole anyway? Because the establishment of the city cut off the natural migration route through the mountains to the traditional winter range in the Great Divide Basin and Red Desert. The pronghorn have continued to find this route past Trapper point, and the native people were hunting far more than antelope there. Both animals and humans migrated out of Jackson/yellowstone for the winter because there was limited resources.

Want a return to the natural way? Bulldoze a migration path through Jackson so the elk can return to their native migratory ways. Yep some trophy homes will be lost but those folks must look at the bigger picture for the good of the region. If man's building was going to disrupt the Wildebeest migration in Africa there would be an uproar. In the US we are hypocrites who say we need to save the wildlife then build our homes with disregard to the natural world around us to make sure we have a "grand" view.

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