Annual Elk Reduction Program and Grizzly Bears

September 26, 2008
The annual elk reduction program in Grand Teton National Park will begin on Saturday, October 11, 2008. Under its 1950 enabling legislation, Grand Teton National Park is mandated by federal law to conduct an elk reduction program — when necessary — for the conservation of the elk population in Jackson Hole. Since the elk herd is currently above its management objective of 11,000 animals, intensive management (including the reduction program) is warranted. The need for the park’s elk reduction program stems partly from an annual winter feeding program on the National Elk Refuge, which sustains high numbers of elk with unnaturally low mortality rates. A majority of elk that are fed on the refuge either summer in, or use migration routes through Grand Teton National Park; as a result, the reduction program has historically included specified park lands.

The elk reduction program utilizes Wyoming licensed hunters that apply for and receive limited quota permits in hunt areas #75 and #79. As provided in the 1950 legislation, a park permit deputizes hunters as park rangers with the authority to take one elk each. Permits are issued for either any elk, or for cow/calf elk.

As a part of their special use permit — and as an added safety measure — each participant receives a strong, proactive message alerting them to the presence of grizzly bears throughout the authorized hunt zones. In addition, hunters are required to carry bear pepper spray as a non-lethal deterrent for use during potential bear encounters. Hunters are also advised not to leave a carcass unattended and to remove their harvested elk as soon as possible. Each fall, park rangers strictly monitor and patrol the elk reduction hunt areas located within the park to ensure compliance with rules and regulations associated with this wildlife management program.

Bears and other scavengers throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) have learned to seek out and feed on gut piles and other hunter-related carrion during the fall season. While this represents an important, highly nutritious food source to these animals, it can create circumstances when bears aggressively defend carcasses and/or gut piles. Hunters and other park visitors should keep in mind that dozens of grizzlies use the park regularly and may be encountered anytime and anywhere throughout the fall. All necessary precautions for recreating in bear country need to be strictly followed, particularly those that apply to hunters.

During the 2007 elk reduction program, many grizzly bears moved widely throughout Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest in pursuit of discarded gut piles and other remains. Bear #399, a 12-year-old female, and her three sub-adult cubs were among those that followed the activities of hunters in the region. Because these bears were comfortable foraging near roads and other developed areas, they served as visible reminders of grizzly bear recovery in the southern portion of the GYE, including increasing numbers of grizzlies in the southern portion of Grand Teton.

The Conservation Strategy for Grizzly Bears in the GYE guides the continuing efforts by land and wildlife managers to conserve bear habitat and minimize bear-human conflicts through education and compliance with appropriate regulations, including those related to keeping a safe distance when viewing bears. To ensure a healthy grizzly bear population, every effort is made to educate park visitors, concessioner employees, local residents and hunters about living and recreating responsibly in bear country. Park rangers will continue to monitor wildlife and educate all users about their personal responsibility for maintaining a safe visit.