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Bruin Lottery: Photographer Tom Mangelsen Scores A Wyoming Grizzly Tag
July 26, 2018
Bruin Lottery: Photographer Tom Mangelsen Scores A Wyoming Grizzly Tag
Jackson Hole conservationist plans to hunt a bear with his camera
If you don't yet grasp the trickster irony, then you don't know the famed American wildlife photographer who makes his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
One of the country’s most outspoken critics of trophy sport hunting, Mangelsen learned Thursday, July 26 that he finished high enough in Wyoming’s bear hunting sweepstakes that he might be able to legally stalk a Greater Yellowstone grizzly this fall.
Euphoric at the prospect, he relishes the chance and, if called by wildlife managers with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, he will pursue a coveted grizzly not with a gun but as he always does, with a long camera lens.
Only a week ago, Mangelsen helped ignite a new movement, hastily organized by five women in Jackson Hole called “Shoot’em With A Camera—Not A Gun.” It sought to enlist non-hunters nationwide to put in for one of Wyoming’s 22 bear hunting licenses. The intent being that if any one of them is awarded a tag to fell a grizzly they will elect not to lethally use it, thus keeping a bear alive. The hunt season lasts from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 and essentially a non-hunter is preventing a bear from being killed during the 10 days he/she is authorized to take a grizzly.
Wyoming is recommencing a trophy hunt of grizzlies that hasn't happened for 44 years and was halted when bruins in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1975.
Back then, it is believed the grizzly population in Greater Yellowstone was just 136 individuals or fewer, with the majority of bears found inside Yellowstone National Park. In the decades since, thanks to strict regulations governing habitat protection, a prohibition on hunting, reducing conflicts with people and stiff penalties awaiting poachers, the number has climbed to around 700 in the primary bear recovery zone.
Around 7,000 people in all applied for bear tags, including Mangelsen, his good friend the global conservation icon Jane Goodall, elephant conservationist Cynthia Moss, and a long list of others. When asked Thursday how he felt, Mangelsen said “amazing” and invited Mountain Journal to join him on his photographic pursuit of grizzlies. Full disclosure: this writer collaborated with Mangelsen on the recent book, Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399, the Most Famous Bear in America.
The recovery of grizzly bears in a region synonymous with them is counted as one of the greatest wildlife success stories in U.S. history. Today, the possibility they could be hunted again is as controversial as almost any wildlife issue in the 21st century. Indeed, heightened by social media, there is global interest.
After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone were biologically recovered and announced its intention to give custodial management back to Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the decision was met with a public outcry. More than 650,000 people submitted comments in response, the vast majority opposing removal of federal protection and allowing states to hold trophy hunts.
More than 650,000 people submitted comments in response, the vast majority opposing removal of federal protection and allowing states to hold trophy hunts.
Once delisting occurred in 2017, the issue of whether grizzly hunting quotas would be set was left to the states. In May, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously 7-0 to allow up to 22 grizzlies to be killed in the state. (There is not a single non-consumptive nature tourism businessperson on the commission. It is comprised of a motel operator, a former state attorney general, a big game hunter/construction company owner, two hunting outfitters, and a sheep grower. The commissioner with the most experience arguably is a retiree from being a career field specialist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service).
Brian Nesvik, Wyoming’s chief game warden, says the number of bears potentially taken in the hunt would not come close to jeopardizing the survival of the regional population.
Nesvik insists Wyoming is actually being conservative with the number of bears it is allowing hunters to take. “I really, truly respect those people who have a philosophical disagreement with grizzly hunting. And I respect people expressing their opinions that engaging in trophy hunting is an unethical activity. But some opponents are being disingenuous in skewing the science,” Nesvik said in an interview with National Geographic. “The science supports what we are are doing and it is not refutable. It’s as solid as we have for any species.”
Nesvik there is a high level of enthusiasm among hunters and Wyoming guides and outfitters for the grizzly hunt. They see it as a rare hunting adventure and an opportunity to make money guiding clients.
Mangelsen, who has been a resident of Wyoming for more than 40 years and once, as a teenager, was a national champion goose caller, has been unrestrained in criticizing his state for bringing back the sport hunt. A wide range of conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the U.S., National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and more than 125 native tribal nations oppose hunting.
The Center for Biological Diversity is organizing a "national day of action" on August 7, 2018, which includes engaging tourists in Yellowstone and sending a petition to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking him to immediately reimpose federal protections. The center also is renting billboard space in Cody and Casper, Wyoming, Fort Collins, Colorado, and Boise, Idaho. Wyoming Wildlife Advocates put up its own message, see below. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife earlier put up its own message, showing a hunter posed next to a dead bear.
With lawsuits from conservationists getting a hearing in August, including a major challenge to grizzly delisting brought by the law firm EarthJustice in federal district court, bear advocates hopes a judge in Missoula, Montana imposes an injunction preventing Wyoming’s hunt from moving forward. At the same time, Safari Club International has tried to enter the fray as a friend of the federal government, defending delisting.
If legal challenges fail, Mangelsen says he will use his tag to spare a bear. Besides Mangelsen, it is not yet known who else scored high enough in the lottery to secure a bear tag. Wyoming residents pay $600 for a license; out of staters $6,000; the bulk of the 22 will go to Wyomingites.
Before grizzly hunters can go into the field, they must take an online course designed to prepare them. It includes taking a test to insure they know the difference between a grizzly and black bear and that shooting a female with cubs isn't allowed. Mangelsen calls that grossly insufficient, noting that even a Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore biologist shot a grizzly that his mistook for a black bear.
Hunters can choose between six different bear hunting areas. Mangelsen, who is number 8 in the queue, says he plans to select a hunt zone closest to either Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks. He has 10 days to kill a bear and if that doesn’t happen, the person who drew the next lottery number, number 9, will be called by Wyoming Game and Fish.
Before grizzly hunters can go into the field, they must take an online course designed to prepare them. It includes taking a test to insure they know the difference between a grizzly and black bear and that shooting a female with cubs isn't allowed. Mangelsen calls that grossly insufficient, noting that even a Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore biologist shot a grizzly that he mistook for a black bear. Further, Mangelsen says it is extremely difficult for veteran wildlife biologists to tell the difference between a male and female grizzly.
Hunters with sportsmen's organizations fear that if a hunter accidentally kills a sow with cubs or wounds a bear it will create a huge public backlash against hunting in general.
In the case of grizzly 399, who is now 22 years old, she has proved to be incredibly fecund, with 17 bears descended in her bloodline. Roughly half have died in various kinds of encounters with people—none involving human maulings—showing how perilous it can be for a bear.
To risk killing bears like 399 in years when she doesn't have cubs is foolish and shortsighted, Mangelsen says. Within the Jackson Hole region, there are also two massive male bears nicknamed Brutus and Bruno believed to have fathered many of the cubs that live in the transboundary region around Grand Teton National Park; because they aren't afraid of people bears like them will be easy targets.
Two years ago, this was the remarkable family lineage of Jackson Hole grizzly 399. It shows how the survival of just a single female grizzly can have major importance in bolstering the overall population. One of Mangelsen's criticisms is that the Wyoming hunt does not discriminate in the knowledge of potential bear hunters and who may accidentally shoot females, claiming they didn't know better. Graphic lifted from the book Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek.
"It will be like shooting your sofa," Mangelsen said. "They'll be toast because that's what hunters with big egos do, they take aim at the biggest bears but no one knows what the consequences of that might be on the social structure of bears, certainly not the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. A bear population is comprised of important individuals."
Mangelsen knows grizzlies need to be removed, even euthanized or sent to zoos sometimes in management actions but he says it is an indignity to label some bears expendable and target them as harvestable commodities, like a logger extracting a tree from the forest.
“I grew up hunting. I understand why people hunt to put food on the table. I get it. But no one eats grizzlies,” Mangelsen said, noting he recently returned from Africa where he spent time with Goodall observing wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. He and Goodall say it wasn’t all that long ago that people also sport hunted chimps and gorillas but society has deemed it morally and ethically repulsive.
“I am opposed to the idea of killing animals for fun and killing a grizzly so that a single person can display it as a rug in their den or as a stuffed animal, for display. That isn't honoring these magnificent creatures; it is defiling them. We as a society don't need to do this,” he said. “Grizzlies are sentient beings, highly intelligent, emotional animals that can feel pain, no different from your pet dog. With 399, she has the same kind of protective motherly instinct toward her cubs that people do with their children. They are not objects."
Last spring, Cody, Wyoming outfitter and guide Lee Livingston expressed his concern that the process of allocating bear licenses might be "hijacked" by efforts such as "Shoot' em With A Camera, Not A Gun." Nesvik said non-hunters who applied for licenses were within their right but he characterized the effort as taking away opportunity from hunters. He predicted the state legislature may take action to try to prevent this from occurring next year.
Nationwide, hunter numbers are in decline and with fewer buying big game licenses, state wildlife agencies everywhere are facing budget crunches. The five Jackson Hole women who launched "Shoot'em" say they are promoting a way for citizens to vote with their wallets by buying licenses and generating revenue for cash-strapped agencies.
Reflecting on his 11 years documenting the life of Jackson Hole grizzly 399 with his camera, Mangelsen says he’s come to have deeper respect for bears after observing them in Alaska, Canada and his wild backyard.
“In British Columbia where there are far more bears than in Wyoming, it was arguably a cultural tradition, yet the government there listened to the public that finds hunting bears for fun morally offensive and shut it down,” Mangelsen said. “There isn’t any tradition of killing grizzlies in Wyoming. It hasn’t happened in two human generations so no one can claim they are being denied from participating in a time-honored pastime. Why re-start a bear hunt now when the overwhelming public opinion of Americans is against it? Trophy hunting grizzlies is backwards and it reflects poorly on our state.”
Although Nesvik says the state of Wyoming has spent upwards of $50 million recovering grizzlies in the state since1975, the rise of wildlife watching in Greater Yellowstone has become an economic juggernaut.
Between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks alone, more than $1 billion is generated annually through nature tourism activities. Two of the marquee attractions are grizzlies and wolves whose non-consumptive economic value dwarfs the amount Wyoming spends to manage bears. In fact, it would take decades of Wyoming spending the amount it earmarks for bear management to equal the revenue generated in a single year through non-consumptive nature tourism.
The message being that grizzlies are worth more alive than dead. Wyoming has said that allowing grizzlies to be killed in outlying areas of the ecosystem will help reduce conflicts, engender more tolerance and it is better to give hunters the opportunity to take problem animals than wildlife managers. Some Wyomingites also claim that hunting grizzlies will make them more afraid of people. However, there is no compelling scientific evidence to support that contention nor that hunting bears equates to greater social tolerance.
Montana wildlife officials decided to refrain from grizzly hunting in 2018 and the state of Idaho, which also comprises part of the Greater Yellowstone region, is allowing one male grizzly to be shot this year.
Mangelsen says he still can’t believe that the results of the lottery put him in a position to garner a bear hunting license. He said, “The best thing that could happen is if one of the lawsuits prevails to restore federal protection to bears and I don’t have to use the tag even to take a bear's picture.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is a map of Wyoming's seven grizzly bear hunt zones.
Three of the seven hunt zones reside primarily in federal public lands either adjacent to, or close proximity with, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge and areas around Jackson Hole. Hunt zone in yellow, zone 7, would allow the taking of up to 12 grizzlies of either sex. Map courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department.