It's that time of year grizzly bears and hunters love in Grand Teton National Park -- time for the annual elk reduction hunt. Mandated by the park's enabling legislation and fueled, more than a few believe, by the state of Wyoming's elk feedlots and the National Elk Refuge, the hunt is scheduled to open on October 11.
Grizzlies and other scavengers actually have been ingrained by past hunts to head into the park in the fall to feast on gut piles and other carrion left behind by hunters. As a result, park rangers will be stressing to hunters to be careful out there.
The annual hunts, intended to keep Grand Teton's elk herds in check, are provided for via the park's enabling legislation. Under it park officials are directed 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. Park officials were not immediately available to say what the elk population currently is.
Grand Teton officials say 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."
There also have been past concerns raised that the state of Wyoming's elk feedlots also contribute to an unusually high elk population in western Wyoming and incubate and spread wildlife diseases such as brucellosis, which can cause domestic livestock to abort their fetuses.
As for the upcoming hunt, the elk reduction program utilizes Wyoming licensed hunters who 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.
According to park officials, each hunt 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."