On a recent winter trip to the Grand Tetons National Park, along with regular visitors, we were greeted by a sight that I didn't expect to see in one of our nations national parks....hunters.
Let me say for the record, I'm all for people being able to enjoy the activities that they find pleasure in as long as it doesn't disrupt the good the people or break any laws, but I have to say I'm not a fan of hunting. I know there is a long standing tradition of hunting in this country and my grandfather was a big hunter, but the times have changed, the world has changed, and I'm not so sure where this fits in any longer.
Our government maintains a "elk management program" that involves thinning of the elk herds by hunters. OK makes sense, another of "man trying to control/manage nature" things. However, they also allow thinning to occur in Grand Teton National Park.
So we rolled into the park in late November to the sights of day-glo orange, camouflage, and high-power rifles. A few weeks ago I had read that there were bear issues in the park, so come prepared. I thought that could be a typo or something, since the bears should be bedding down for winter. Oh no, no typo here. You see, since there was hunting going on, there was alot of fresh meat, which means that the bears weren't sleeping. They were awake, hungry and from what I heard, a mite grumpy too since they weren't sleeping yet.
So our first morning in the park, we heading to Schwabacher Landing to shoot some landscape images. Walking down the snowy trail, the first thing I notice is some large bear tracks! And, they looked fairly recent, within the past day or so. Not 3 minutes after I see the tracks, two hunters come by with rifles, scopes and all their gear. Oh great, we are down here with hungry bears and guys with guns! Landscape photography now has a new element of danger to it.
We set up and began shooting some landscapes of the Tetons on a crisp, clear morning. After about 30 minutes a group of 4 people show up, toting still cameras, video cameras and such. Turns out, they were shooting a documentary about the elk hunt and the impact it was having on the bears and the other folks visiting the park for recreation. The crew was accompanied by Tom Mangelsen who is one of the preeminant wildlife photographers of our time and who lives in Jackson WY. We struck up a conversation with Tom who told us a much more troubling story.
Apparently 3 days before we arrived, a grizzly bear was shot and killed a few yards from where we were shooting pictures. A dad and his two sons were out hunting when they say the bear charged them, so they had to shoot it. The kids were 12 and 13 years old, with high-powered rifles. As you can imagine, this caused an uproar in the nature community and called into question hunting in the park.
The naturalist in the group explained that the bear tracks I saw were from a grizzly and only a couple hours old. She then showed us the blood trail from the killed bear when they hauled out the animal for disposal. All of this brought home even more the sketchy location we were in.
As recreationalists, we were interviewed for the video and provided some insight into our experience in park, trying to enjoy a scenic winter landscape amidst the sounds of gunshots and . We never did see the bear and we talked a lot about running to town to buy some day-glo clothing for ourselves so we weren't shot by some hunter thinking I was a big furry bear or elk.
Hunting by itself is not a bad pursuit, I'm not saying to not do it. But America is filled with lots of open land with no people, land that could be hunted. Why sanction a hunt in one of the most majestic and beautiful National Parks? Let those of us who enjoy nature for natures sake, enjoy these treasures in peace without the risk of being shot. And, let the bears sleep on their natural rhythms.
Change the rules please...